Monday, June 23, 2008

Food Prices and the Poor

In yesterday's NY Times, the paper focused on the way in which rising food prices is impacting food stamp recipients: "Making ends meet on food stamps has never been easy for Cassandra Johnson, but since food prices began their steep climb earlier this year, she has had to develop new survival strategies. She hunts for items that are on the shelf beyond their expiration dates because their prices are often reduced, a practice she once avoided."

The escalation in the cost of groceries is becoming both a health as well as an economic justice problem: "The sharp rise in food prices is being felt acutely by poor families on food stamps, the federal food assistance program. In the past year, the cost of food for what the government considers a minimum nutritional diet has risen 7.2 percent nationwide. It is on track to become the largest increase since 1989, according to April data, the most recent numbers, from the United States Department of Agriculture. The prices of certain staples have risen even more. The cost of eggs, for example, has increased nearly 20 percent, and the price of milk and other dairy products has risen 10 percent."

This food crisis is felt most acutely in NYC: "Families on food stamps have been hit hard across the nation, but perhaps not as hard as families in New York, where food costs are substantially higher than prices almost everywhere else, including other urban areas, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a research and advocacy group in Washington." Which brings us, of course, to the problem of lost supermarkets.

As food prices rise, and supermarkets disappear, it is more difficult for low income New Yorkers to shop economically-and the more expensive healthier items such as fruits and vegetables are often the first to go: "June Jacobs-Cuffee of Brooklyn shares $120 a month in food stamps with her 19-year-old epileptic son. She says that even after her once-a-month trip to the food pantry at St. John’s Bread & Life in Brooklyn, she has had to give up red meat and is also cutting back on buying fresh fruits and sticking instead with canned goods and fruit cocktail."

So, with poorer areas already underserved by large discounting markets, it becomes even more incumbent on city officials to act expeditiously to preserve existing supermarkets, and to build new ones. Our Key Food supermarket in Soundview is a test case-let's see how they all respond.