On Rising Food Prices and Low Inflation

Last week, NPR had a fine, short piece on the disconnect between consumer’s very real observations of rising food prices and economist’s less than comforting assertions about low inflation.

Economists track inflation through the Consumer Price Index which looks at a basket of goods that tend to have stable prices to screen out volatility. At 2.1 percent it is currently well below the historic average of 3.2 percent. This is the rate for things like TVs, phones and refrigerators. What it doesn’t look at is two of the categories that consumers are the most sensitive to: food and fuel.

Marilyn Geewax does a fine job explaining why food costs are up well above the 2.1 percent rate of inflation, namely the impact of three years of drought on cattle stocks and the PED virus that has been worrying the nation’s pork supply.

I think, however that a finer point needs to be put on the matter. Inflation is a very specific term for economists and it is a form of rising prices, but it is not synonymous with rising prices and that is something that is not very well understood. In fact, I know people with degrees in economics that can’t seem to keep the difference between inflation and rising costs straight. What economists are looking at when they look at inflation is signs of ‘too much money chasing too few goods’. It’s a money supply problem. Too much money in circulation, interest rates too low, employment levels too high, factors like that. What it isn’t is a measure of increased costs and stresses in supply chains. Three years of drought reducing winnowing cattle stocks. Natural gas shipments displacing grain shipments in Canada. The PED virus cutting pork stocks. Those are all reasons that food and fuel costs can go up, but they don’t constitute inflation.

Go back to the two posts we did on the price of oats coming from Canada. I looked at the impact of a tough winter and Canadian oat farmer Ron Rein explained the impact of rail policy in Canada. It was stresses in the supply chain that were causing oat prices to rise, not inflation. Cold comfort, but worth understanding the difference. If only so that you don’t throw your cereal bowl at the radio when they announce that inflation is still low. You wouldn’t want to waste that milk. It’s getting expensive.

The Road to Fairtrade (and points elsewhere) is Paved with Good Intentions

If you aren’t addressing the underlying economics and shaping the market through policy, you are swimming upstream at best. Some might say pissing in the wind.

According to Mr Sylla’s calculations, for each dollar paid by an American consumer for a fair-trade product, only three cents more are transferred to the country it came from than for the unlabelled alternative.

Is Transformation Really that Different from Backcrossing?

GUEST POST: Benjamin Edge

Benjamin Edge (@edgeben) is a former wheat breeder for Pioneer Hi-Bred, International, a DuPont Company, and for Clemson University. He has released 10 PVP protected wheat varieties and is a co-inventor of record for 5 wheat variety patents. He has taught classes in plant breeding, biology, and computer technology.

Transformation, the insertion of genes into an organism through the use of a ‘gene gun’ or a bacterial vector, is a tool used by plant breeders to introduce new traits to a crop when there is not enough readily useful variation present in the crop they are trying to improve. Transformation results in what we commonly refer to as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. While some consider this a risky technology,  transformation is actually very similar in effect to what conventional breeders do when they find a gene of interest in a wild relative, and use backcrossing to incorporate that gene into an adapted variety.

Backcrossing is a VERY effective tool of conventional plant breeders (Briggs and Knowles, 1977). Once you find a trait you are interested in, you can move that trait from a wild relative (closely related species) or from any member of the species you are working with into an adapted variety with great repeatability (reproduced or repeated easily). Backcrossing is used when you have a well adapted variety, say plant A, with high yield, large seeds, and strong stems, but with some weakness, such as susceptibility to a disease. If you find a plant, say plant B, with disease resistance, but poor yield, small seeds, and weak stems, you can use backcrossing to incorporate that disease resistance trait into plant A, what we call introgression of the trait.

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Slow Talkin’ Mo.

As painful as it is to encourage people to listen to me speak, I think my first radio interview on food politics (remind me to tell you about the time I was interviewed for Australian public radio about Elvis’ eating habits) went pretty well. It was a good warm up for a talk I’ll be doing this Sunday in Olympia, WA. The interview was with me and Max DeJarnatt from the Center for Environmental Modernism, one of the organizers of Sunday’s event. John Ford at KAOS is friendly, sharp, and skilled radio interviewer. He did a great job making this amateur get through 45 minutes without too much dead air.

The FB link to the talk can be found here.

The Center for Environmental Modernism
Presents
Moving the Food Movement Forward
How Good Science, Smart Policies, and Community Organizing Can Change the American Food System
A Presentation by Marc Brazeau
————————-
Date Sunday, June 29, 2014 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Location Traditions Café and World Folk Art
300 5th Avenue SW, Olympia, WA 98501
————————-
Despite the rapid growth in the food movement in recent years, the major problems facing America’s food system—confusing nutrition information, exploitation of workers, environmental degradation, food security, to name just a few—have yet to see any real shift. Activism has surged, but changes in policy and politics have lagged. Marc Brazeau, blogger and editor for the website Realfood.org, attempts to explain why this is the case by critiquing the food movement’s major priorities, and by offering a new progressive agenda for America’s agricultural future.

Back from the road

Blogging resumes tomorrow morning. Lots to talk about.

The Simplest Solution to the Greek Yogurt Problem

Modern Farmer has an interesting piece on Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side detailing the problem of disposing tens of millions of gallons of acid whey and some of the solutions that are being developed to make use of it. The central problem is that making Greek style yogurt produces more byproduct than traditional yogurt. That is because more liquid is strained in order to concentrate the protein content. You need to concentrate the protein content because you are using less fat and you want that lush texture and mouthfeel that traditional low-fat yogurt lacks.

There is a very simple solution to the problem. Stop eating Greek style yogurt. Stop avoiding dairy fat. Eat whole milk yogurt. It is more nutritious, it tastes better and it probably better for weight management and is not associated with heart disease. Problem solved.

The Heretic’s Guide to Vegan Cookery

First published on  Skepteco

by Graham Strouts

Update:Andy Murray has emailed me with glad tidings- he tells me “the book has just been picked up by a publisher last month so it’ll be coming out later this year as a updated, improved, more recipes and photos and a more cooky cookbook. Also on kindle too.”
Watch this space for updates!
***

More from the Zone5 Archives. This book is too tasty to resist!
Originally Posted on 12 November 2009 on the now-deceased Zone5 blog

Book Review: The Heretic’s Guide to Vegan Cookery
Modern animal-free recipes from around the world with added musings inspired by the Isle of Avalon According to Harmonically Challenged Cook
Andy Murray
Warning! Not suitable for Breatharians
The Good Elf Press 2009
187pp

Heretics guide to Vegan cookery

Astrology is an amazing tool to run your life by, without having to waste time with the fraudulent pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo of Science. Astrology explains wars, thunderstorms and plagues. We can even use it historically. For example, if we know exactly when and where Queen Elizabeth was born, we can find out exactly who she was without having to waste time on fictitious history books. With it we can even discover why Einstein was so damn clever. Astrology is way better than sex.

You don’t have to be a vegan to enjoy Andy Murray’s brilliant Heretic’s Guide, which is packed with dozens of tasty simple recipes to satisfy even the most hardened omnivore at least some of the time, you don’t even need to have any great interest in cooking or even food. That is because for our amusement and philosophical delectation there are numerous passages in between the recipes giving us fascinating and hilarious perspectives from the Mecca of New Age beliefs in Britain, the town of Glastonbury near where the author lives.

While waiting for the pumpkin soup to cook or in between making preparations for the Hazelnut and Celery Risotto you will be able to work up an appetite by rolling around clutching your belly after reading the sure -to-become-classic passages “Reiki Reiki Rise and Shine” “Cooking with Astrology” or “Breeding Gurus for Profit”.

This book has it all really- great advice on cooking with fresh ingredients and all the usual good reasons to grow your own and buy local; loads of easy to follow recipes including a big choice of soups, salads and dips; and inspirational chapter on cooking in the great outdoors, including a useful guide to wild food; Posh Things to Do with Vegetables; Main Meals; Side Dishes and Extras; Desserts, and Cakes and Biscuits.

And then the alternative Contents covers everything else- Cults, Gurus, Satanism, Religion, Crop Circles, Homeopathy- nothing is sacred and nothing is spared the sharp rib-splitting egg-whisk of Murray’s irreverence.

Homeopathic Cookery Doubters of this form of cookery pour scorn on the fact that a diner might receive a drop of gravy and a shred of carrot on a plate. How can this be a meal, they ask? What they fail to understand is that carbon,the building block of all life, has a memory. A potentised meal maintains a complete carbon hologram, the information of the whole, even down to the smallest atomic sum of its parts.A homeopathic amount of food is of course more than sufficient to provide all the nutritional benefits that would be expected from a plateful of food, and puts paid to any shrill cries of fraud. Filthy skeptics who come to the homeopathic table having already made up their tiny minds will throw down their napkins and walk away still believing what they believe to be true, and little can be done to change their wrongness.

Even Murray’s own sacred Creed of Veganism is given the once-over. This is something I know a little about, because I once lived in a vegan community on the Welsh Borders. I was not especially into veganism per se and went there to learn to grow vegetables; I happily lived a vegan diet however, but was aware of an acute divide between some of my fellow communards, who seemed to be at each others throats all the time.

On one extreme there were the the vegans who were happy to eat anything so long as it was vegan, including skip food, vegan chocolate from Malaysia (or somewhere) and chip butties. This group of vegans were also keen to give over some of the best land we had to rescued sheep and aging dogs, and generally turn the place into an animal sanctuary.

All this tended to jar somewhat with the second group who apart from being rather snobby in their choice of edibles- Vegan Organic Wholefoods only, no white flour allowed, lots of Miso- didn’t seem to like animals at all anywhere near them. Wild animals were OK in their own wild homes, but no pets, farm animals or incontinent retired donkeys of any kind permitted.

Murray gives a total of 7 Vegan groups, including the Fat Vegan, the Sensitive Vegan and the Style Vegan, but presumable fits into he first category of The Common Vegan:

The most widespread of all vegans, the common vegan has been quietly animal free for years and still hasn’t died. Usually healthy, fit and happy, they tend to be quite normal, although sometimes a little willowy to stand in a strong wind.

For Murray, veganism might well play a role in a sustainable future, but is mainly just about bloody good food. While no longer a Vegan myself, my animal-free taste buds have been re-awakened by the Heretics Guide and who knows, so may some of my Chakras.

And with that I think Ill go and make a quick Potato Rosti.