EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


May 3, 2014

Column: Economy puts the squeeze on weeknight dinner

With all the recent turmoil, it may seem the least of our collective worries is the escalating cost of food. But for millions of Americans, this is a daily worry.

Prices of beef, pork, fruits and vegetables are rising; current bouts of bad weather will not help.

True, we pay a smaller percentage of our incomes for food than much of the world. And too many of us have eaten too many calories over the years.

But most Americans get by on a fixed amount of money each week; 10 or 20 dollars more spent for the same amount of food means something has to give.

Not insignificantly, along with plain old bad weather, climate change seems to be an increasing factor in food prices, along with mysterious blights, government regulations, land prices and changing food tastes.

The price of limes is front-page news. (Yes, we now have the 89-cent lime. The Wall Street Journal found a California Mexican restaurant needing 1,000 limes a week that will give customers a 25-cent margarita in exchange for a bag of limes from backyard fruit trees.)

Apparently, the harsh winter and heavy rains have decreased the lime supply from Mexico, which provides 97 percent of the 500,000 tons Americans squeeze each year. Prices have quadrupled.

But this is about more than the search for half a lime to jam into a bottle of Corona, even with the approach of Cinco de Mayo.

In Florida the citrus crop is imperiled by one of the worst blights in memory. No changing out that margarita for a mimosa or a salty dog without worrying about the rent.

As grilling season begins, we learn the number of cattle coming to market has plummeted because of recession and the dreadful winter. For 19 consecutive months inventories in U.S. feedlots with 1,000 head of cattle or more have declined from the same months the previous year. There’s evidence beef prices are the highest in 17 years.

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