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Increasing Food Costs Hidden from Americans

The New York Times has a great story explaining how the higher cost of food and other raw materials is hidden from the American consumer.

In “Food Inflation Kept Hidden in Tinier Bags,” Stephanie Clifford and Catherine Rampell explain how companies disguise the rising cost of food by adding more air to potato chip bags or scooping the underside of the peanut butter jar a bit more.

So while we don’t have to shake baguettes in the street as we call for the overthrow of the government just yet (as in Tunisia), food inflation has in fact hit American shores. Imperceptible though it may be, it is a harbinger of the difficulties that lie ahead.

I’ve written previously about how the rising cost of food has fueled the unrest in the Middle East, especially trendsetters Tunisia and Egypt. While these uprisings appear to have a democratic yearning at their core, they also highlight the vulnerability of the developing world to spikes in food prices. Here in America our vulnerability is greatly shielded, but it exists. We need to eat like everyone else.

Even if Kraft and Quaker disguise the cost as “more environmentally friendly packaging” (because it’s smaller) or “fewer calories” (because there are fewer Cheeze-its inside), the environment remains a primary cause of this deeply troubling food price spike.

It doesn’t help that America has decided to convert corn to fuel–and that debate has been well-traveled and articulated over the years. The only people left who like corn ethanol are a bipartisan coalition of corn state lawmakers who see votes in something science long ago discredited as helpful in every way, shape, and form.

More importantly, extreme weather events across the globe this past year deeply depressed food production and painted a rather frightening picture for the future. Unprecedented floods, droughts and wildfires driving down food production in the same year that atmospheric carbon dioxide reached the unprecedented-in-800,000 years ratio of 390 parts per million should be scary enough. Seeing as how the world is hurtling toward 500 ppm and beyond, there’s little evidence that says we should not expect more of the same in the decades to come.

We’ll see how few Fritos you can get away putting in a bag before people start to get worried.