High Food Prices Explained, Plus 10 Tips to Save Money on Groceries


It all seems so surreal and sudden: people in various countries are rioting for food and the local Costco is limiting the number of bags of rice people can buy. In fact, the food crisis has been building for a long time. It’s just hard to see it when you live in the United States, with our fully stocked grocery stores and comparatively high incomes. What’s causing this?

- Fuel Prices
Fossil fuel price increases lead to higher food transport costs that are passed onto consumers. Industrial agriculture, being dependent on petroleum products for fertilizer and fuel for the machines of labor, is no longer a source of cheap commodities.

- Investment in Biofuels
The money being poured into biofuels raises the demand for corn and soy products and diverts them from food production, meaning they get more expensive.

- Droughts
Droughts in rice and wheat producing areas, like Australia, mean diminished supplies and higher prices.

- Demand
Population increases lead to rising demand and higher prices.

10 Tips to Save Money on Groceries:

1. Shop the bulk bins. If you have a grocery store with a bulk department, you can save big on staples like flour, sugar, pasta, beans, and grains. You’ll use less packaging, too.

2. Eat less meat. Protein is up in price and most of us eat more meat than our bodies need (about 50 pounds more meat a year than our grandparents). So cut back on meat and eat more beans and grains (a bag of beans typically costs about a dollar and can feed a whole family).

3. Buy cheaper cuts of meat. Some of the most delicious dishes are made from the fattier, tougher cuts of meat like pork shoulder and beef chuck roast. Skip the filet mignon and braise a cheaper cut for a long time. It will be tender and give back in leftovers (pull out your crock pot).

4. Eat your leftovers. Get creative in the kitchen and use up that last little bit of something in a new way. And take your lunch. It’s estimated that we throw away at least 25% of the food we buy.

5. Eat in season from the market or your CSA box. Vegetables cost less when they’re in season, and they taste better too. And you’ll be supporting local farmers.

6. Eat your eggs. Eggs are up in price like all staples, but they are still a bargain form of protein compared to fresh fish or meat. Go for pastured eggs or cage-free organic for best quality and humane treatment of chickens.

7. Join a co-op or buying club. Or start your own. Find one near you.

8. Plan your menus and shop with a list. This will cut down on impulse buying and temptation to choose pre-packaged fare.

9. Grow your own. Grow your own vegetables. Then, take it a step further and learn to dehydrate, freeze, and can foods for the winter.

10. Know when to scrimp and when not to. Don’t do what my mother did and mix powdered milk with regular milk, because you deserve good quality, wholesome food!

Image: daviddesign

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.