LEMONS ARE NOW A LUXURY ITEM
OUR AGRICULTURAL FOOD PRODUCTION SYSTEM
Look, we all know that Whole Foods, aka “Whole Paycheck,” is an expensive place to shop for you breakfast granola and Xtra large eggs pushed out by range free chickens. I mean, I used to shop there frequently until I retired and could no longer afford to. But today I went to our local Safeway needing a few items for some muffins I was planning to make and a couple of cartons of Chicken Stock. I haven’t told you, but I’ve gotten into the muffin baking arena as a part of my efforts to conquer my basic lack of baking talent in my chef repertoire. I started out about a year ago, attempting to tackle the home-baked French Baguette, not a simple bagatelle to make, for sure. In about five attempts I wound up with one moderate success and four abject failures. Thusly defeated, I decided to start with something simpler, thus the muffin thing.
Now my mother and her sisters were great bakers. In fact, I can still taste my Aunt Anne’s Scottish shortbread fresh from the oven. Then, too, one memory permanently engraved in my brain, is waking up on a Saturday morning at the fishing camp we used to patronize up on the Saint Lawrence River with the divine odor of Ms. Shermahorne’s freshly baked bread wafting into our cabin. And while this is gong to date me, there was nothing more delicious than her bread toasted on a fork stuck into the big cast iron wood burning stove in our cabin with those heavy, round iron disks that you removed in order to toast the bread in the glowing coals below. (My Russian readers might know what I mean even if my Millennials may not.)
So today I drove over to what we used to call the Stalin Safeway (this part of Capital Hill was not so long ago a very dangerous D.C. neighborhood, and the Safeway used to have four or five armed guards roaming the place.) My list: chicken stock, yogurt (for the muffins), butter and lemons. Now I’ve bitched here before about the $4.00 capsicum peppers at our local Harris Teeter which, to me, is simply outrageous, but the Safeway has always been a more reasonable alternative given that their “Organic” section is fairly sparse and the produce there doesn’t have the “bright shininess” of similar produce at “Whole Paycheck.”
But when I got to the bin that contained the lemons, just ordinary, yellow, non-organic, run-of-the-mill lemons, I saw that the sign noted they were $0.89 a piece. Eighty-nine cents for one ratty, ordinary lemon? Not organic and not even home grown. They were from Mexico. Now I love Mexico and, thank God, they grow all those veggies and fruits we import to our local grocery stores, but Eighty-Nine-Fucking-Cents for a single lemon? WTF?
I recently saw a piece of beef, some kind of steak labeled with a name that is a mystery to me for $24.99 a pound, and I thought “Who the hell buys beef at $25 a pound?” Definitely not me. No matter from which country our food items come from, it seems as if prices for food have been skyrocketing over that past few years. The Commerce Department no longer includes what used to be called the “Typical Food Basket” costs in their calculations of rates of inflation – nor do they include fuel prices since volatile short term prices fluxuations tend to skew the rate of inflation. But despite this exclusion, we still pay more for our groceries. Take this for example,
The Reuters CRB Commodity Index, which tracks the prices of coffee, cocoa, copper, and cotton, as well as energy, is up 38% over four years, or 8.6% at a compound annual rate.
Price hikes for a particular item here or there don’t qualify as inflation. If one thing gets more expensive but something else gets cheaper, that’s what economists call a relative price change. Inflation is a simultaneous increase in prices across the board.
The last is just so bloody reasonable and rational I want to vomit. But I also want the folks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to know that I don’t buy beef any more. It’s just too dammed expensive. And $4.00 for a single yellow pepper, to say nothing of $25 for a pound of rib roast is simply insane. What I’d like to do is throw a couple dozen non-organic lemons through the window of the BLS down on 14th Street in the Commerce Department Building. No, wait a minute. At $0.89 a piece, that comes to a total $21.36. Hell, we’ll go out to dinner tonight instead.
Have a good day!
PS: If you haven’t looked at the origin of the fruits and veggies you buy at the grocery store, pay attention. You will be surprised. One of my friends is big into the whole mess that is our food production and distribution system courtesy of Con-Agra, Monsanto, Tysons and the other mega-players who produce our food. It needs to change when in drought challenged California where 80% of the U.S. almonds are grown, a $5 billion annual crop, yet the bulk of the almond crop – 70% - is exported to Europe, Asia and the Middle East while we local suckers pay $9 or $10 bucks a pound for a product that’s made right here. More about the state of our agricultural production system later.
QUESTION: Why does China label Genetically Modified Organisms, (GMO’s), aka FOOD, and we don't?