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High food prices have consumers and aid agencies scrambling

As food prices continue to rise, consumers around the country are being forced to adjust their habits and aid agencies are ramping up support.

Overall, food prices were 4.6% higher in September than a year ago, driven largely by surging prices for meat, poultry, and fish, which were up 10.4%, according to the Consumer Price Index. Beef was up a whopping 17%, and pork nearly 13%. Eggs, too, were up 12.6%.

The higher prices are being driven by a combination of factors, from labor and ingredient shortages to disrupted supply chains and transportation bottlenecks — even to severe weather likely due to climate change.

In Lexington, South Carolina, Joci Whittle says she’s had to make changes to work around her grocery budget and the rising food prices. “We have to budget. I have my list ready, and I get there and everything’s more expensive, and you kind of have to readjust your plans — your meal plans for the week,” said Whittle. “A lot of our meals that did consist of meat, I’ve looked at vegetarian options.”

In South Dakota, Kathy Ryther, 65, a retiree from Pierre who lives on a fixed income, said she is shocked by the jump in grocery prices this year. Ryther said she has adapted by buying less food in general and skimping on some meals. “It’s just so ungodly high right now,” Ryther said after shopping at Lynn’s Dakotamart in Pierre on a recent day. “I don’t live in New York, do I?”

In response to rising costs, the Social Security Administration last week announced its biggest cost-of-living hike a decade, 5.9%, but already there is concern that it won’t be enough to offset higher food costs. And the Biden administration boosted SNAP benefits more than 25%.

The USDA’s Food Price Outlook, released on Monday, is still projecting that higher food prices will ease somewhat in 2022, with increases more in line with historical averages. But with so many variables contributing to the inflation, experts disagree on how soon prices — for food but also gasoline and a whole range of goods and services — will settle.

Historically, voters often punish politicians when food prices get too high, and it’s something else for the Democrats to worry about with the midterms looming next year. “[T]he inflation spike now appears to be on track to persist deep into 2022, when midterm elections will determine who controls Congress, as clogged supply chains, labor shortages, and unabated consumer demand push costs even higher,” reports Politico.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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