Thursday, December 27, 2007

Economist "Cheap No More" article addresses soaring food prices

The Dec 6th Economist has a comprehensive article about why food prices have soared over the last few years and are unlikely to come down soon. This problem is complicated and the repercussions for hunger and poverty are profound. The article covered many aspects of the issue in a thorough way. It shocked me to learn that all this expensive food and scarcity is happening during the biggest bumper crop for cereal that the world has EVER seen.

The reasons behind soaring wheat, corn and rice prices are varied and complex. They run from the usual suspects (US farm subsidies, ethanol) to the less obvious (decreased poverty in China and India means increased meat consumption which requires more grain fed to livestock). The ramifications of rising prices are also not straightforward. The problem causes hardship for providers of emergency food aid and people whose food budget is a high percentage of their income. Yet it is a boon for poor countries who can be food exporters like India, Swaziland, and South Africa. Countries like Malawi and Zimbabwe could also follow suit.

If you are interested in a big picture view of poverty and global economics, this is an article well worth reading.

Here are some exerpts...
"In every country, the least well-off consumers are hardest hit when food prices rise. This is true in rich and poor countries alike but the scale in the latter is altogether different. As Gary Becker, a Nobel economics laureate at the University of Chicago, points out, if food prices rise by one-third, they will reduce living standards in rich countries by about 3%, but in very poor ones by over 20%."

"This year the overall decline in stockpiles of all cereals will be about 53m tonnes—a very rough indication of by how much demand is outstripping supply. The increase in the amount of American maize going just to ethanol is about 30m tonnes. In other words, the demands of America's ethanol programme alone account for over half the world's unmet need for cereals. Without that programme, food prices would not be rising anything like as quickly as they have been. According to the World Bank, the grain needed to fill up an SUV would feed a person for a year."

Monday, December 24, 2007

I won't be idle with despair

A Christmas message from me (and Jewel):

If I could tell the world just one thing/
It would be that we're all OK/
And not to worry 'cause worry is wasteful/
And useless in times like these/
I won't be made useless/
I won't be idle with despair/
I will gather myself around my faith/
For light does the darkness most fear/
My hands are small, I know/
But they're not yours, they are my own/…
In the end, only kindness matters/...
I will get down on my knees and I will pray.

A message from Kate Maehr, Exec Director of GCFD

From Kate Maehr, Exec Director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Included in an email message to GCFD supporters...
As 2007 draws to a close, I have been reflecting on what an eventful year it has been for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. In particular, the last few months have reminded me of the importance of a community response to the needs of the hungry men, women and children in Cook County.

By now, you may know that the shelves at the Greater Chicago Food Depository and those of its member pantries are emptier than usual this holiday season. As reported in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, a decrease in food commodities from the federal government has made it more difficult for pantries in Chicago—and nationwide—to serve the hungry men, women and children of our community. In addition, donations of salvage products—dented cans and damaged boxes—have dipped by 42 percent since 2004. Meantime, increasing numbers of people are turning to pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Cook County.

Despite these challenges, the Food Depository is still distributing good quality nutritious food to our neighbors in need. In fact, in the last year we distributed more than 9 million pounds of fruits and vegetables, more than 20,000 packs of food for seniors and more than 430,000 meals for Kids Cafes throughout Cook County. And the food will continue to flow into our community in the coming days, weeks and months—because so many individuals, families, organizations and corporations have responded to our call to action with donations of time, food and money.

Thank you so very much for your ongoing support in the fight against hunger in our community. We look forward to working with the entire community in the new year to ensure that even more hungry men, women and children in our community have the food they need.

Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a wonderful new year,
Kate Maehr
Executive Director
Greater Chicago Food Depository

P.S. There is still time to make a gift that can help the nearly 500,000 men, women and children who turn to the Food Depository’s member agencies for a bag of groceries or a hot meal each year. Donate online at or donate food through our One City, One Food Drive initiative. For a complete list of donation locations, please visit