Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

December 5, 2013

'Tis the season to be food-insecure

(Continued)

But the most curious finding of all is this: Five of the 96 majority African-American counties with the highest rates of food insecurity also fell into the top 10 percent of counties with the highest food cost index, the average cost per meal being $3.07, as compared with the national average of $2.67.

What does that mean? The cost of food is highest for the poorest people in America.

And that’s not the only culprit in the hunger games. The cost of food for everyone is rising — a fact that U.S. politicians seem to willfully ignore, while praising a relatively low inflation rate.

Herein lies the problem: The “core inflation rate” of 2 percent, measured by the Consumer Price Index, is a misleading figure, because it is reported excluding measures like food, gas and oil prices.

You’ve seen the price of chicken inching higher, right? That’s because the poultry CPI increased by 5.1 percent since this time last year. And fresh vegetable prices experienced an even steeper climb, up 6.5 percent since October of 2012.

Another problem is that the food supply took a hit the past two years as severe droughts ravaged the American heartland. And as weather patterns changed, the Mississippi River experienced unstable rises and falls, leading to a reduction of cross-river traffic and affecting the transport of food.

In addition, fuel prices remained high — not because of political unrest in the Middle East, but rather, due to the unbridled practice of speculative (and lucrative) commodity trading on Wall Street.

As oil and gas prices increase, so does the cost of transporting food. And the U.S. government’s subsidy of corn production for use in biofuels only serves to exacerbate the situation; it reduces the corn supply while having the unintended effect of raising prices.

The government passed the Commodity Exchange Act in 1936, at the height of the Great Depression, with the aim of limiting fuel and food speculation, and to protect both consumers and farmers from artificial manipulation of prices by bankers and investors. But, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi writes, “In 1991, the CFTC [Commodity Futures Trading Commission] issued Goldman Sachs an exemption, which was then allowed to be used by other banks, to override these limits. An explosion in commodities prices ensued, and we are still paying the price today, with gas prices above $3/gallon, despite no change in oil on the market from 2007.”

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