Saturday, March 08, 2008

Think Your Food Bill Is Too High?



imagine trying to make it on a third world income, where it is not unusual for a family of 8 or 10 people to depend on one wage earner. staples like cooking oil and wheat are at record prices. it's things like this that make me realize how unbelievably lucky i am to have the luxury of treating wheat and cooking oil like negligible expenses.

the new york times puts a positive spin on this development, noting that the higher prices are reviving the american farmer and that some of the rise can be attributed to increasing demand from a growing global middle class. they also note that higher fuel prices are responsible for more expensive food, however. additionally, globalization is introducing new tastes to consumers around the world. in nigeria, demand for wheat has soared because bread has ceased to be a delicacy and is now a staple food.

4 comments:

joe said...

You know, that story is kind of f**ked. Lots of things go through my head... first one was: "I bet the quality of white bread in Nigeria is as crappy as it is in Ghana." (unlike in French Africa, where they make delicious baguettes)

It seems like white bread probably isn't the most nutritious food in the world. Rice (actually grown several places in W. Africa) and different types of beans are actually one common staple, along with various kinds of starchy foods made from corn and cassava root. It just makes me wonder where the "demand" for wheat bread came from... though assuming Nigeria is like Ghana, they've been making it since the colonial period. I can't help but think the simple carbs from white bread are sort of "empty calories" that might make people fat but not necessarily be super nutritious -- but I'm not necessarily sure, since there are also probably a lot of rural areas that can use any food they can get, and wheat bread does provide some protein and much needed calories. The international business of food is pretty interesting. Thanks for highlighting this article.

emily1 said...

It just makes me wonder where the "demand" for wheat bread came from... though assuming Nigeria is like Ghana, they've been making it since the colonial period.

welcome to globalization. the article says the reason that nigeria's demand for wheat is due to two factors. median income doubled in the first half of this decade. american exporters marketed bread to them, and now nigeria imports most of the wheat from the US:

Though wracked with upheaval for years and with many millions still rooted in poverty, Nigeria has a growing middle class. Median income per person doubled in the first half of this decade, to $560 in 2005. Much of this increase is being spent on food.

Nigeria grows little wheat, but its people have developed a taste for bread, in part because of marketing by American exporters. Between 1995 and 2005, per capita wheat consumption in Nigeria more than tripled, to 44 pounds a year. Bread has been displacing traditional foods like eba, dumplings made from cassava root.

joe said...

I read the full article after posting my comment and duly noted the fact that you pointed out: that American exporters had a hand in creating demand for wheat bread.

Also sobering was one of the last paragraphs where the Nigerian guy mentioned that they enjoy bread so much for breakfast even though it costs double the traditional "eba". While part of me thinks that's crazy, I also realize it's not right for me to sit here in my first-world chair and say that Nigerians shouldn't be eating their tasty white toast for breakfast and instead "should" be eating their goopy cassava dumplings. It might be more sustainable if we all ate some kind of simple oatmeal gruel for breakfast, but we all want our Frosted Flakes or Pop Tarts, or whatever floats our boat in the morning, right?

The best quote was when someone said "The whole world wants to eat like Americans, but to do so we'd need two or three Earths to produce all that food." We really are kind of screwed, aren't we? I'm not sure it's realistic to assume that everyone's standard of living isn't going to HAVE to drop at some point -- we all assume that it's just going to climb and climb. Then again, maybe there'll be another "Green Revolution"... and I'm also mostly in favor of things like genetically-modified foods to increase production. Again thanks for pointing out the article.

emily1 said...

Also sobering was one of the last paragraphs where the Nigerian guy mentioned that they enjoy bread so much for breakfast even though it costs double the traditional "eba". While part of me thinks that's crazy, I also realize it's not right for me to sit here in my first-world chair and say that Nigerians shouldn't be eating their tasty white toast for breakfast and instead "should" be eating their goopy cassava dumplings.

that paragraph gave me pause too. i won't speculate on whether cassava dumplings aren't as tasty as toast since i've never had any, but i also, like you, don't feel right judging his choice to eat bread rather than cheaper traditional nigerian foods.

there sometimes appears to be a desire on the part of some rich westerners to tsk tsk the poor of the world when they become 'corrupted' by the consumerism that characterizes their own societies, and i want to avoid that tendency myself. sometimes the small luxuries a person allows themselves make the difficulty and challenges of poverty easier to bear.

The best quote was when someone said "The whole world wants to eat like Americans, but to do so we'd need two or three Earths to produce all that food." We really are kind of screwed, aren't we? I'm not sure it's realistic to assume that everyone's standard of living isn't going to HAVE to drop at some point -- we all assume that it's just going to climb and climb.

i've often thought this as well. i think it is inevitable that the first world standard of living would drop while the developing world's standard of living will rise and until they meet because of globalization.

the first world likely will have to eat more fruits, grains and vegetables and less meat, dairy and processed foods and pursue less water and energy-intensive lifestyles.

technology might eventually make it possible to produce more with fewer inputs, but it will take a while to develop it.