Eat Well and Save

Eat Well and Save (cont.)

Eat and Can Seasonal Produce
Produce is cheapest and tastes best when it’s at its seasonal peak. Stock up on things like tomatoes or plums during the summer, and try canning them or making preserves.

Join a CSA
Net big savings on local, organic produce and meat by joining a CSA (short for Community Supported Agriculture). You pay a farm for a subscription, typically on a monthly basis, and the farm provides you with a box of produce every week. CSAs usually don’t deliver to your door, so you’ll have to pick up your box at a local drop-off site. But they do save time (no shopping at the farmers’ market and fewer trips to the grocery store) and can offer savings because you are buying direct. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, $25 gets you an organic produce box from Eatwell Farm; a recent box contained one basket of strawberries, five plums, one basket of cherry tomatoes, about two pounds of huckleberry potatoes, one bunch of basil, one bunch of chard, one small head of green cabbage, one pound of summer squash, one bunch of carrots, one bunch of arugula, and one bunch of Easter Egg radishes. The equivalent produce purchased at Safeway at the time of writing totaled $29.69 for nonorganic versions. Check out LocalHarvest to find farms with CSAs near you. Independent ranches are also beginning to offer organic and pasture-raised meat using the CSA model, and through whole animal shares and neighborhood buying clubs, all of which can help you save money on superpremium meat.

What Food Costs and Why

To see where food prices are headed and what’s pushing them there, we turned to the USDA Economic Research Service’s (ERS) consumer price index for foods, and talked to Ephraim Leibtag, an economist with the ERS, and Dr. Richard Kilmer, a University of Florida professor of food and resource economics.

Among the factors driving prices up: population growth, the high cost of oil, the diversion of grain crops to ethanol production, the increased export of U.S. grains, droughts and flooding, and grain futures speculation.

“It’s one of those things where everything happens at once,” says Kilmer. “[Some of the factors] have always been there, but the other stuff has suddenly raised its ugly head.”

The bottom line is that food costs are expected to increase by 4.5 to 5.5 percent by the end of the year. Normally, Leibtag says, they rise 2.5 percent a year.

Meat, poultry, and fish
Causes of increase: Feed costs are up, oil costs are up, and producers are going out of business, reducing supply.

Causes of increase: Because the overall price of a dozen eggs is fairly low, producers (and, in turn, retailers) can easily pass their additional costs (energy, feed) on to consumers.

Milk and cheese
Causes of increase: “The dairy industry is now a global market,” says Kilmer. Today, other countries purchase 10 percent of the U.S. dairy supply, and their bids drive up prices.

Fats and oils
Causes of increase: With grains like rice, wheat, and corn in short supply, acreage once dedicated to soybeans (a source of vegetable oil) is replanted with these crops, driving down soybean supply. Increased dairy costs have driven up the price of butter.

Fruits and vegetables
Causes of increase: Rise in production and transportation costs.

Sugars and sweets
Causes of increase: Less corn means fewer corn byproducts, like high-fructose corn syrup.

Cereals and baked goods
Causes of increase: Low world supplies of grains due to droughts, increased global demand, and trade restrictions.

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