Inflation and rising grocery bills highlight how the cost of food affects our wallets. Higher prices cost everyone more, but they make it harder for those with lower incomes to meet their basic needs.
On July 5, the federal government issued a one-time grocery rebate to help low-income Canadians with rising costs. Eligible families can receive up to $628 to help pay for their groceries.
By 2022, Canada will see its highest rate of food inflation in decades. Although the rate of increase is slow, Canadian families are projected to pay up to $1,065 more for food by 2023.
However, by focusing only on how to keep food costs down, we risk ignoring the reasons why people can’t buy food in the first place.
The price of food at the checkout counter includes the production, processing, distribution and retailing of the food. It does not include health care costs from food-related diseases, current and future environmental impacts or social injustices, such as low wages for farm workers or the use of forced labour. child labor.
These are called negative externalities. These are the spillover effects of a food production system that does not consider the wider impact on society.
In 2011, the external cost of agricultural production around Central and Western Canada alone was estimated at about $8.9 billion. When externalities are taken into account, the real cost of food in the United States is three times the amount Americans pay.
This means that most of the food we buy is underpriced due to various social, economic and environmental externalities. We may not be paying for these hidden costs at the checkout, but we are doing so with our health care costs, poor food quality and social inequality. People in the Global South and those living on low incomes are disproportionately affected by these hidden costs.
Putting the cost of food in perspective
With the current focus on rising food prices, it may come as a surprise that Canadians are spending relatively little on food. According to a 2016 study—the last year for which data is available—Canada is one of the five countries in the world with the least food costs.
By 2022, Canadians will spend, on average, 11 percent of their income on food. Those with the highest incomes spent 5.2 percent on food, while those living with the lowest incomes spent up to 23 percent of their income on food. That means those with the lowest incomes feel the brunt of rising food costs the most.
The percentage of income spent on food has been declining since the 1960s. In 1969, Canadians spent 19.6 percent of their income on food. While food prices have risen due to the pandemic and inflation, Canadians’ food spending has been relatively stable since 2010 at between 10 to 11 percent of their income.
Although the cost of food increases, the most vulnerable people in the food system, farmers and farm workers, receive a smaller share of the income. In Canada, wages in the agricultural sector are below average, with weekly earnings about 21 percent lower than in other sectors. In 2021, US farmers and farm workers received only 7.4 cents for every dollar spent on food. In 2013, they received 10.2 cents.
High food prices are not the main issue
High food prices are not the main reason people cannot buy food. Poverty is. Poverty is a systemic issue, often the result of poor government policies, income inequality and systemic forms of discrimination.
The average Canadian household experienced a 16 percent increase in income from 1999 to 2022. However, the amount of money spent on housing increased by 12 percent, and health spending by 35.6 percent.
In addition, low-income people increasingly identify systemic issues, such as racism and colonialism, as the main obstacles to achieving food security. Even with low food costs, racialized people face many barriers to achieving food security. Systemic discrimination leads to a concentration of social and economic disadvantages that increase rates of food insecurity.
Income inequality in Canada increased dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s. That pattern has not changed. Today, the groups most likely to experience low income continue to be Indigenous Peoples and racialized Canadians.
According to the last census, 18.8 percent of Indigenous people live in a low-income household, compared to 7.9 percent of the non-Indigenous population. Indigenous communities in Canada face food insecurity at a rate two to five times higher than other Canadians.
The First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study found that households with access to food obtained using traditional practices were more food secure, and less likely to have complex health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. For members of these households, access to growing and harvesting food for themselves and their community is more important than low food prices.
Cheap food has a cost
Regular bananas are one of the cheapest foods in Canadian grocery stores. They contribute to the chronic underpayment of farmers and farm workers, child labor practices, loss of biodiversity and water pollution.
As a result, conventional bananas have higher hidden costs than fair trade bananas. Much of this is attributed to insufficient wages and lack of social security for farmers and farm workers. By buying fair trade bananas, consumers can contribute significantly to sustainability and greater equity.
Fair trade products may be more expensive, but as a result farmers and farm workers receive fairer wages and there is greater transparency throughout the supply chain.
The Fair Food Program encourages corporations to buy products from farms that treat their workers humanely and pay them fairly. The latest report from The Fair Food Program shows a reduction in injuries, violence and reported sexual harassment among workers on farms participating in the program.
In early 2000, buyers agreed to pay a penny more for each pound of tomatoes, passing it on to farm workers. This goes directly to farm workers, which equates to a 20-35 percent increase in weekly wages.
The hidden costs of cheap food disproportionately harm racialized communities and those with low incomes. They also deprive us all of a just, fair and sustainable food system. Paying farmers and food workers is an investment in local economies and a stronger, more equitable and just global food system.
Provided by The Conversation
This article is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Citation: The real cost of food: High grocery prices are not the root issue, say researchers (2023, July 10) retrieved 11 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07 -true-food-high-grocery -price.html
This document is subject to copyright. Except for any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without written permission. Content is provided for informational purposes only.