Friday, July 1, 2011

The Price of Baking

There is no such thing as a free lunch. That statement is pretty universally true, if you consider not only monetary exchanges, but also the cost of time, environmental degradation, human exploitation, etc. Now if we focus just on the dollar sign in front of food, we run into one of the hot-button issues on the international development scenes - rising food prices. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) puts out a monthly assessment of the global trends in food commodity prices. According to these statistics, the price of food is hovering at its highest yet. *UPDATE* The June Food Price Index was just released, with sugar increasing 1% last month! But FAO economist Abdolreza Abbassian said that the "recent surge in sugar prices was likely to be short-term." phew.

High prices have been attributed to higher demand, depressed yields, inclement weather, and the diversion of crops to biofuels. Amidst fear of a repeat food crisis and rioting, as seen in 2008, global leaders have come together to seriously discuss the crop production and dissemination strategies necessary to feed a global population of 7 ... 9 ... and eventually 10.2 billion. In developing countries these price hikes are felt keenly, as a higher percentage of the poor's income goes toward food. While prices have gone up in the United States, most of us don't notice a drastic change. Much of our food bill actually goes to the processing, packaging, and advertising of products, and not for the commodity itself. So a higher price for a bushel of corn is slightly masked by the other steps along the value chain.

Why am I talking food prices? Well, the other day I went into Whole Foods to purchase a new 5-lbs bag of vegan cane sugar. What normally cost me $4.99 was now $6.99! A two-dollar increase in only a month. Considering the USDA documented an entire cent increase per pound in wholesale sugar (the biggest jump since 1975 and the highest price on record) between April and May, this may not be so surprising. But it also has some consequences for this blog.

I bake a lot. Though I attempt to write about a variety of topics on food, much of it comes back to baking. Due to not altogether unexpected increases in the price of sugar (and wheat soon to follow?) my baking activity may decrease, or at least shift. Hopefully, this will be the enticement needed to explore the use of alternative sweeteners and different interpretations of dessert (blueberries, anyone?). Between this hiccup and somewhat of a blogidentity crisis, my blog may be undergoing a bit of a redefining in the coming month. Keep your eyes peeled.

Potential upcoming topics: red, white, and blueberry; exotic chocolate; adventures in pickling

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