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Rising food prices have led to both food insecurity and improvisation: NPR

By on November 9, 2021 0

The cost of many foods, especially beef, pork, and poultry, are rising rapidly, largely due to supply chain issues. For many, this can mean tough decisions at the grocery store.


And now to something that affects just about all of us – rising food prices. Many of us experience sticker shock at the grocery store, and many families find that their grocery budget no longer covers what it used to be. NPR’s Laurel Wamsley reports.

LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: When I speak with Kleshay Miller (ph) residing in Washington, DC outside a supermarket in Columbia Heights, she carries plastic grocery bags, but those bags don’t contain the item she wanted actually buy.

KLESHAY MILLER: We have a whole bag of soup. You get four for five. I went for a steak because I like to make homemade soup, but it’s too high.

WAMSLEY: The cost of the steak?


WAMSLEY: She also wanted to buy paper towels and toilet paper.

MILLER: But you see, I didn’t get any out, so – (laughs).

WAMSLEY: With his 18-year-old son by his side, Miller says the price hike took a toll on their budget.

Is it causing you stress?

MILLER: Of course because we have special diets on top of that and underlying health issues. We have to eat in certain ways, so food is really expensive.

WAMSLEY She’s not the only one feeling the pinch. The price of food in the home has increased 4.5% in the past year. And one food has become particularly expensive – meat.

JAYSON LUSK: Beef is up about 18%. Pork is up about 13%. Chicken is up about 8%.

WAMSLEY: Jayson Lusk is an agricultural economist at Purdue University. He says the cost of corn and soybeans increased a year ago, driven by Chinese demand and bad weather. Because corn and soybeans are what cattle eat, meat prices have gone up. And there is a high demand in general right now for groceries and restaurants.

LUSK: And then on the supply side, the pandemic disruptions are still there, mostly work related issues. In many food processing industries, it is still difficult to obtain labor, and labor is more expensive.

WAMSLEY: The different trends you’ve heard about – ports congested with ships, people leaving their jobs – are all part of the reasons food costs more. Brandon Tabor (ph), a 33-year-old man in Houma, Louisiana, says prices rose during Hurricane Ida and never fell. He has noticed the surge in meat prices and finds that canned goods are also more expensive.

BRANDON TABOR: For example, off-brand costs as much as branded corn would cost three months ago. And you just gotta get what you gotta get, sometimes.

WAMSLEY: Nerve injuries to his hands made it difficult to find stable work. He says the SNAP benefits he receives are useful, but they don’t cover everything.

TABOR Probably three weeks out of the month, I’m going to shop for groceries and then start going where things are scarce, you know?

WAMSLEY: Geri Henchy is director of nutritional policy for the Food Research & Action Center in Washington, DC She says rising food prices are a disaster for low-income families.

GERI HENCHY: A lot of them are already in trouble. And as the prices have gone up and so quickly, they cannot adjust. They have no room in their budget.

WAMSLEY: More than 38 million Americans lived in food insecure households last year, according to the USDA. And Henchy says rising food prices can be difficult for those who were on the brink but still able to get the food they needed.

HENCHY: There’s a whole bunch of low-income people who fall into that category. When those food prices go up like that, they just fall outside that category. They become food insecure.

WAMSLEY: Krisna Mendieta, 39, from Queens, NY, manages to hold on. She is 39 years old and raised in Ecuador, and her family includes her mother, her fiance and her 18 year old daughter.

KRISNA MENDIETA: Before, I could have a diet rich in all kinds of meats, fish, different kinds of vegetables.

WAMSLEY: She works as a dental assistant and her hours were reduced during the pandemic. With higher prices and less income, her family changed their diet to shift their focus to seasonal vegetables.

MENDIETA: Now the meat is out of reach (laughs), the seafood out of my reach, although now I have to try to find sales for the chicken because sometimes you find it.

WAMSLEY: She said she tried to get SNAP benefits, but was told she was making about a hundred dollars above the income limit.

MENDIETA: It’s not that I’m hungry. It’s just stressful that now I have limitations that I didn’t have before, even though I’m working.

WAMSLEY: Mendieta says she improvises and finds new ways to do magic with vegetables. As prices continue to rise, many other families will need to find ways to improvise as well.

Laurel Wamsley, NPR News, Washington.


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