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We all know the government often lies, especially during the last seven years or so of Bush and Company.  However, we sort of expect the career bureaucrats who crunch numbers and provide us with all  official statistics to be largely out of the Lying Pool.  Right?  Well ....

Anybody who's been to the grocery store lately might have noticed that the price of food hasn't exactly been going down.

And a new study reports that many Americans soon won't be able to afford the most nutritious food -- namely fresh fruits and vegetables.

Also, not long ago in China, three people were killed in a stampede attempting to buy discounted cooking oil.  

As climate change and growing urban populations (people who don't grow their own food) exacerbate the problem, we can only expect more of these problems.  Follow me over the speed bump as I attempt a bit of "truthiness" and show you the difference between the govermnent figures (read: lies) and what's actually going on.

First, this first-of-its-kind study which I discovered at one of my new favorite sources of information, the Environmental News Network (dot com):

Seattle - As food prices rise, the costs of lower-calorie foods are rising the fastest, according to a University of Washington study appearing in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. As the prices of fresh fruit and vegetables and other low-calorie foods have jumped nearly 20 percent in the past two years, the UW researchers say, a nutritious diet may be moving out of the reach of some American consumers.

Hm, how interesting.  Being chubby used to be a sign of wealth.  Now, in America, it may turn into a sign of poverty.  "Let them eat lard!" I suppose.

Having noticed my personal food purchases being noticeably and disturbingly more expensive lately, I decided to see if anyone else was noticing the same thing.  Well, they are.  

But here's the rub:  the official government "word" on this is that it's really not a Big Deal.  The Consumer Price Index claims that food prices are only up 3.5 to 4.5 percent for 2007, with 2 percent inflation overall.  Ha!  My own experience says otherwise ...

And so does McClatchy, one of the only honest names in news these days.  Check this out:

MIDLAND, Va. — The Labor Department's most recent inflation data showed that U.S. food prices rose by 4.2 percent for the 12 months ending in July, but a deeper look at the numbers reveals that the price of milk, eggs and other essentials in the American diet are actually rising by double digits.

Already stung by a two-year rise in gasoline prices, American consumers now face sharply higher prices for foods they can't do without. This little-known fact may go a long way to explaining why, despite healthy job statistics, Americans remain glum about the economy.

Meeting with economic writers last week, President Bush dismissed several polls that show Americans are down on the economy. He expressed surprise that inflation is one of the stated concerns.

"They cite inflation?" Bush asked, adding that, "I happen to believe the war has clouded a lot of people's sense of optimism."

But the inflation numbers reveal the extent to which lower- and middle-income Americans are being pinched.

Bush wouldn't know the price of a gallon of milk anymore than his father did.  Nor would he give a damn, even if it were $20 a gallon.  

So why is the CPI so out-of-whack with reality?  Gee, maybe it's because historically a great deal of civil instability has occurred in times of extreme inflation.  History is replete with examples, one of the most infamous being the massive inflation that took place in Germany during Hitler's rise to power.  

"Tell the people that prices aren't really going up that much!  Maybe they'll believe it!"  

I mean, why the hell else would the CPI be rigged so it doesn't reflect items essential to life itself?  And Bush has peppered our entire government full of liars and censors, from people who rip out pages of scientific reports to those who utterly corrupted our Justice Department (whatever happened to that investigation?).

But never mind the government, back to reality:  Much of the blame for what's really happening now is being attributed to the growth of the Chinese and Indian economies.  As more people move to cities and work in factories, and quit growing their own food and instead having to purchase it, the price of food is skyrocketing in China.  Considering that these people are sometimes 15 year old girls being paid 6 cents an hour, the price of food can be a Very Big Deal.  So big, in fact, that three people were recently killed in a stampede to buy cheaper-than-normal cooking oil.

"...this past Saturday in Chongqing," reports the New York Times , "people began lining up before dawn when a Carrefour store offered a discount on large jugs of cooking oil, an essential for a lot of Chinese cooking. When the doors opened, a stampede ensued, killing 3 people and injuring 31. China’s commerce ministry responded on Monday by ordering a ban on limited-time sales promotions."

Officially, prices are rising at a 6.5% annual rate in China. Even at the official rate, the Chinese have not seen so much inflation in nearly 11 years. But food is rising a 17.6% rate. This is a big problem in China –people don’t earn much money, so they have to spend a lot of it on food. That’s why people got killed trying to get a good deal on cooking oil.

Two other things to keep in mind.  Even using the government's deliberately deflated figures, this year will probably have the sharpest rise in food prices since 1980.  

Also, this probably isn't a cyclical change in prices.  In dry economic speak:

John Parker, food analyst at Deutsche Bank, said: "There is growing concern within the food industry that the present upswing in soft commodity prices is structural rather than cyclical."

In other words, get used to it.  

If you want to read more about this our very own Bonddad has written two diaries here, Part One and Part Two, about this very phenomenon.  He goes into detail as to how the demand for corn, to be used to produce ethanol, figures into this.  I highly recommend these if you haven't read them already.

Anyone heard the candidates addressing these issues?  For many people, especially those of us (like myself!) trying to feed growing children, this is a Very Big Deal.

Originally posted to theyrereal on Tue Dec 04, 2007 at 08:36 PM PST.


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