Sunday, March 8, 2009

Peak Food: the economics of eating.

Let's make a few assumptions to preface the conversation and put it in the context of sensible simplicity--meaning efficiency, right?

Let's look at the average individual in round terms at the moment--and the food issue.

This person makes 20000 - 25000 dollars a year at the prevailing wages of 10 to 12 dollars an hour.

This person eats 3 meals a day. Of course they eat out all the time at McDisgustings and the rest--but assuming they might cook on occasion--it's very easy to assume a food budget of 20 dollars a day if one isn't surviving on complete poverty food. Dry goods across the board at the moment will cost most of 2 dollars a lb--adjusting back and forth for calorie density--and those who have provisioned for "voyages" or elsewise will recognize that 3 lbs per day of dry food in the mix is very sensible. If you're going to throw in anything remotely healthy like a vegetable or two adding a couple of bucks a meal is easy, and if one isn't sedentary throwing a bit of meat in there can easily add another couple bucks.

At 20 dollars a day in food it costs over 10000 dollars a year in earnings. Remember this poor bugger is paying a dollar of taxes on every 3 of earnings. A 20 dollar a day habit will eat 30 bucks of wages a day--and you eat 7 days a week while working 5.

So, let's assume the price of food across the board doubles. Rice did last spring, at least, and this isn't really very radical a notion.

Can the average American worker withstand a 40 dollars a day food budget? Consider as well that it costs 60 dollars of wages to earn that 40 after taxes--obviously not, as you've ate your wages completely and then some. If we assume this person again pays 500 dollars a month in rent, 100 bucks a month in utilities, and nothing at all on cigarettes--honestly, a doubling of food costs is something that simply cannot be borne. In fact, the situation gets very rapidly into the case that it simply doesn't pay to go to work--as it will cost one more in expenses to get there and feed oneself than the prevailing wage pays.

The point of this post is to observe that the median wage earner in this country is so pinched in terms of monthly income that there simply isn't the extra money to overcome large food price increases. So don't think that hardship will be isolated to the remote deserts of Africa. . .


3brainer said...

Interesting post, and a very good point. People really must start growing food for themselves. We're about to harvest nettles from the forest soon. It's something at least. We have fruit trees and berries to. If we weren't planning to spend half the year on a boat, I'd surely be planting more.

Food must be significantly more expensive in Hawaii, because both my partner and I spend roughly $20/day together. We live in Washington state. We eat well I think, mostly organic, some but not much meat, enjoy plenty of treats, and the occasional bottle of wine. We rarely eat out. I'm curious how that averages with other parts of the country or world.

jaywfitz said...

. . .if you ask nice I'll reveal the super secret trick of reef fishing in the sound. Need to know basis only.

Mark said...

Growing food for yourself? Do you think that works on a massive scale? Everyone for himself, and where is the efficiency then? I guess it will just not work for 7 billion people.

Another point is the meat-oil-analogy. The American has consumed LOTS of oil. And he has consumed LOTS of meat. Now that the economy is diving, both types of consumption get crushed: high oil+food price (in general energy/water) -> even higher meat prices -> lower meat consumption -> much more non-meat/non-secondary food supply...

One should always take the dependencies into account.

I also doubt oil will get significantly higher anytime soon -- the US is in deep recession, so WHO is gonna buy expensive oil en masse?

Mark said...

It would also be interesting to know why wheat prices have peaked earlier than oil prices.... my first guess is that oil is just more important, so you save on meat first (before quitting your job...).