Expect Rising Food Prices Next Year
The recent Canada’s Food Price Report, released annually by the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University, concluded that overall food prices in Canada could increase by 3.5 percent, or about $411 for every four-person household. Two important factors have been found to be driving the projected increase in food prices.
The first is the expectation that the warming of the Pacific Ocean (EL Nino) will follow our cold winter and result in drier weather conditions for 2019. These drier conditions will have the most effect on places we import our vegetables and fruit from in winter, such as California.
The second is the gradual shift in the overall population’s diet preferences, specifically within the younger generation, primarily young women, away from meat consumption and towards the adoption of meat alternatives found in plant-based proteins. Approximately a third of Canadians (32%) have expressed an interest in reducing their meat consumption in the next six months. The Food Price Report notes that since 2010, beef consumption has fallen by 94 million kilograms with expectations that this trend will continue, putting downward pressure on meat prices. The flip side, of course, is upward pressure on the relative prices of fruit and vegetable prices.
These trends raise the question of what this will mean for Canadian families that are struggling to get by financially. The prospect of a $411 increase in grocery bills for 2019 may not seem like a massive increase to household expenses but as of early 2018, about one third of Canadian households were living paycheck-to-paycheck. This is a sizeable portion of our fellow Canadians with little or no money available after taking into account the costs of essential expenses.
The prospect of food prices increasing by $411 next year is clearly onerous. With so many living on the edge of feeding families adequately, it is no surprise to learn that about 850,000 people in Canada get assistance from food banks. It is unfortunate that with this challenge facing families, in Canada about 10% of our greenhouse crops and 20% of our field crops are simply too ‘ugly’ to be placed on store shelves to be bought by the general public.
Good nutrition should never be a struggle to attain by anyone, especially when considering the fact that a large portion of the food that is produced is perfectly fine but still discarded because we don’t like the look of it. After all, nutrition is what matters once we’re chewing, not that our apple is shiny and consistently red. To put this issue into perspective, the wastage of perfectly nutritious food has progressed to the point that dumpster diving has become a popular activity among individuals looking to help do their part to eat well on a limited budget and to curb food waste with the added benefit of avoiding the cash register. This activity is just as it sounds, that is searching through grocery store or restaurant dumpsters for food that has been thrown away for no good reason other than its visual appeal.
Clearly, consumers are signalling significant changes in preferences that both producers and governments should not ignore. Price signals will do their job to induce shifts in food production to reflect consumer preferences, but will we all be well fed? Perhaps it is time for society to take a lesson from dumpster divers and re-evaluate the way we think about food quality that reflects nutritional value rather than shelf appeal. The larger challenge, of course, goes beyond food availability, or even prices, to the ethical question about how we can promote a just society where all Canadians have sufficient resources to eat well.
Josh Kraemer is Communications Intern for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXFM Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.