In the graph above the little blue crosses indicate the price of wheat in certain countries that have experienced social unrest this year. The further to the top right the cross is, the higher the medium and short term price hike the country has suffered: for wheat and therefore for bread.
Saudi and Algeria are stable, Occupied Palestine, Jordan and Egypt are on the high end of the price spike; Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco and Lebanon significantly high. There is, therefore, a rough – but only – rough correlation between bread prices and revolutions. So far.
To put the above into perspective, take a look at the USDA’s estimates of food prices from countries around the world:
See how Pakistan is all the way over to the right with 45.5% of the average household spending going to food and America is all the way to the left, where only 6.9% of average household earnings are spent on food? That doesn’t seem fair. Quoting the Nielsen article:
[A]t a time when many countries around the world are facing double-digit inflation on basic food items, can the U.S. be far behind?
The simple answer is no.
At first glance, it looks like America is doing well keeping its food prices low—and thus its populace safely dissuaded from revolution. But peel away the curtain and the story is far more sinister. The question becomes, “How the hell can America afford to keep food prices so low when the average American farm size has actually decreased from 431 acres in 1997 to 418 acres in 2007?”
We have less farmland and yet more food today than we ever did before. And although many people, myself included, ignorantly believed that this was actually proof of “science’s achievements,” that simplistic analysis is wholly quantitative. What of our food’s quality?
According to sources compiled in 2010, the average american eats 1,996.3 lbs. of food per year. Unsurprisingly, most of it is mostly garbage. While charts like the one below may look nice, they don’t seem to account for how much the commodity, subsidized foods like corn are inside other foods and even in the diets of food-producing animals, such as (amazingly) COWS!
The answer to my question, I’m sadly beginning to realize, is that America keeps food prices low using government subsidies—corn subsidies, totaling $75 billion from 1995 to 2009, are the biggest there are, and by a long shot, as wheat subsidies come in a distant second totaling a mere $31.8 billion in the same timeframe—and immigrant labor trafficking. The best documentation I’ve seen of these issues is in the movie Food, Inc., which, to borrow the words of one review:
…is the definitive statement on how America produces crappy food to the detriment of the people who eat it, the animals who are treated cruelly in farms and slaughterhouses, and the largely immigrant workforce that labors in unsafe and low wage conditions. The only benefactors it would appear are the men who run Monsanto, Purdue, Smithfield and a small group of other huge multinationals that only see food as the ultimate commodity. When they look at a tomato, they don’t see something to eat but something to turn into a dollar no matter the consequences to society.
These are the other pieces in the same puzzle that Stephen Colbert highlighted when he testified on immigration reform to Congress. And thanks in part to America’s overwhelming—and overwhelmingly corrupt—military and economic dominance, such “consequences to society” are not confined to American soil. They are actively, intentionally exported to other countries, and all the problems that America’s food lobby foists onto Americans are also being foisted on the rest of the planet.
In 2002, Andrew Cassel discussed Why U.S. Farm Subsidies Are Bad for the World:
The farm bill, which the House of Representatives has approved and which the Senate could vote on this week, calls for taxpayers to fork over some $180 billion to farmers during the next decade. That’s a 70 percent hike above the cost of current farm-subsidy programs, most of which represent direct payments to wealthy farmers and agribusinesses.
Those subsidies make it possible to export millions of tons of food so cheaply that native farmers in places such as Jamaica can’t possibly compete.
By guaranteeing U.S. farmers a minimum payment for commodities such as corn, rice and soybeans, the government encourages overproduction. That drives down the market price, forcing even higher subsidies and creating surpluses that can be shipped to Jamaica and elsewhere.
As far as I can tell, little has changed since 2002. In fact, things have gotten worse. Since then, the Bush administration’s illegal wars in the Middle East have further destabilized the region and, in turn, caused oil prices to rise. And since so much of the food industry is mechanized, it needs oil to function. And that? Yup. You guessed it. Back to the Nielsen article:
With continued unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa and the resulting impact on global oil prices, we will likely see increased inflationary pressures from rising fuel prices have a similar impact on U.S. consumers as experienced in 2008 (i.e., shopping trip compression, more at-home consumption, value buying and increased coupon usage).
In short, it is a food pyramid, except the pyramid isn’t food groups, it’s classes of people, and the food isn’t really food anymore, it’s a weapon of class antagonism.
As the Obama administration continues Bush’s wars, and engages their own in Libya, oil prices continue to rise. This, in turn, raises costs for the food corporations, which, in turn, gives them reason to lobby the government for more
food subsidies corporate welfare, which, in turn, help keep food unhealthy yet cheap, which, in turn, keep the American populace lethargic and compliant and fed, which, in turn, prevents us from revolting (at least in a mass democratic movement).
And if that weren’t bad enough, with food prices so low, and with America’s military literally blowing up acre after acre of the rest of the world so that they can’t produce their food natively even if they could compete economically, the large food corporations can supply the demand for food from other countries:
Global demand for U.S. food in developing countries is great for U.S. exports, but those gains may also lead to higher food prices for U.S. consumers.
So. Are you still proud of what your country has become, my fellow Americans?