Food prices are soaring. Everyone is experiencing this trend in some way across the world. But while this increased cost of food limits other luxuries and activities in the majority of our Western lives, it doesn’t mean we’re eating less or going hungry like some of the poorest places in the world. Food riots in Haiti and Bangladesh and the food crisis for worldwide aid programs have brought to our attention what increasing costs can mean to people living on the poverty line. If you are already living with less than a dollar a day and prices rise even a little, you are bond to be pushed closer to the edge, the brink.
Admittedly, one factor is the increase in oil prices. (I have now added a function on my sidebar which brings up-to-date oil price rates.) Another factor are changing weather conditions–global warming, droughts, storms, etc. But one of the the factors affecting food prices that we as human societies control the most is our production of bio-based fuels. Both the United States and Europe support and subsidize the production of oil-substitutes like ethanol.
As Ecobrowser brings up in a post on “Food Prices”: SDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber predicts that 4.1 billion bushels, or 31% of the entire U.S. corn crop, will be devoted to ethanol production for the 2008/09 season.
Just check the graph:
Source: Glauber (2008) from the 2008 Agricultural Outlook Forum.
This being said, I think it is time we as societies reevaluate our productive choices. Is it better to have a car with biofuel than to have poor people around the world with (barely!) enough to eat?
While there are admittedly certain limits to the productivity of the planet, this does not forsake the need and ethical call to accommodate a lifestyle where, to the best of our abilities, everyone has enough to eat, access to health care and basic education, and the ability to live and pursue a happy, productive life.
If not everyone in the world can live like Westerners, then it is time for us to change our lifestyles such that we start living more and more like the Other, the poor Other…