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Five buck bread could wind up being a low estimate

Submitted by on Monday, 2 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published May 15, 2008, thehive.modbee.com

We’re going to be paying $5 for a loaf of bread by the end of summer, a friend predicted recently.

Maybe you will, but I bake all of ours, I retorted.

Despite my smugness, his point was well-taken. Have you walked out of a grocery store recently with your wallet less than 30 bucks lighter?

I find myself looking back fondly to the days when I complained about how much formula cost. I realize now it was a bargain — $25 would feed the baby guys for more than a week back then. That sum barely keeps them in bananas and milk these days.

And it’s getting worse.

This just in from the Labor Department: Food prices rose 0.9 percent last month, the biggest jump in 18 years. For the past year, the increase is 5 percent.

It’s even more depressing when you dig into the Consumer Price Index statistics. Costs for “food at home” increased 1.5 percent. Fresh fruits climbed 3.2 percent. Milk, 13.5 percent higher than in April 2007. And a loaf of bread? Up 14 percent from a year ago.

Suddenly, my friend’s prediction doesn’t seem so outrageous.

Gasoline prices were up 20.6 percent from a year ago, which led sfgate.com to proclaim, I hope tongue in cheek, that except for food and gas, April inflation was tame.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

For a growing number of us, there is no other than that, as the non-recession already has pared discretionary spending to the bone. And the Consumer Price Index reflects that as well.

Prices fell last month for motor vehicles, audio and video products, toys and hotel rooms – things I’m not buying right now because food and gas prices are so high.

The Chronicle story did go on to concede that the food and gas increases are hammering low-income families.

Low-income families? Think again, folks. These increases are creeping quickly up the brackets to hit middle income as well.

I’m no economist, but I know what I see:

  • A co-worker who’s abandoned her cute little retro Smiley face lunch box in favor of a larger soft-side model. She’s trying to save money by not using sandwich bags, and plastic containers won’t fit in the smaller lunch box.
  • Thermoses everywhere – I’d love to see a Consumer Price Index figure on that increase, because demand has to be climbing. Used to be, only hard-core addict coffee snobs such as me toted their own brew. Since Christmas, the “make it and take it” crowd has a lot more company.
  • More lunch boxes in general and fewer meals out.
  • Birthday parties with homemade cupcakes instead of bakery-bought cakes.
  • Raises that don’t cover health-insurance premium increases, and higher co-payments on top of that.

It all makes me glad I know how to make bread. And, as my grandfather used to say, “use everything from the turkey except the gobble.” Slow-cooking the carcass overnight results in a bountiful supply of broth.

We’re actually pretty luck here.

The International Monetary Fund says food prices worldwide have risen 45 percent since mid-2006, and increase the anti-poverty group blames in part on American and European biofuels policies. The Bush administration disputes that claim.

There are food-related riots in some countries, India recently told Americans we should eat less. If we slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, “many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates,” an Indian international trade official told The New York Times.

A simplistic and somewhat flippant answer to a serious worldwide problem that shows no sign of easing.

I’m fortunate that my “hard decisions” involve telling the guys we can’t have Oreos, that we’re going to bake cookies instead.

I’m grateful that I don’t have to pick milk or medicine. I’m thankful that I still can buy food without braving a riot.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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