Monday, December 12, 2011

What can a dollar buy?

Today, not much. If you're feeling like your dollar doesn't stretch as far as it used to, it doesn't. There are obvious problems, such as not getting a raise. (Most workers who are lucky enough to have a job haven't gotten a raise since around 2008. Have you? I recently wrote our governor to beg for the proposed 3.5% raise for university staff.) There's the fact that food and gas prices and just about everything else has gone up. And then, there are the sneaky ways that you don't realize you're paying more for less. I found this great article on Yahoo earlier today, about how packages (or sometimes, just what's in the package) are getting smaller but the price is staying the same, or even going up a little bit. They make the great point that deception in food packaging is a long standing tradition. It's one of the reasons I hate buying chips. You spend so much money on a giant bag that's really only half full. For the rest, you're paying for air. (And extra packaging! How much waste could be eliminated if they'd stop doing that?!) But now, it's gotten really bad. It's not just some brands, it's most of them. They do highlight a few that are still putting as much in their product as before, but in most cases you're paying a lot more for that. So not only can you not afford to buy as much, but when you do buy food there's not actually as much of it in a package as there used to be. Is it any wonder most of the media talk about the middle class being "squeezed"? That sure is a fitting description for what it feels like.
When you're getting just as much food, and paying a little more for the privilege, you're generally getting a lower quality product too. Have you looked at steaks in your area? After browsing the meat section at Fred Meyer the other day (just to see) I realized that all of the meats looked so much fattier. They're the kinds of things that I would never want to bring home and serve my family. I wonder what else is getting stretched that way?
The biggest drivers behind food prices are global warming related events (such as hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, and droughts--like the ones all over the U.S. this year) and the fact that nearly all of our crops can be traced back to four large companies. And yes, I am accusing them of price-fixing. They might not set the standard for what each grocery store charges, but they're certainly responsible for the costs of seeds (more and more of which are genetically modified and, therefore, patented) and for the costs of running a farm. (Monsanto, for instance, has both seeds that they sell and the pesticides that are used on them. And since the seeds are patented, the farmer has to buy from them every year. Also, the pesticides lose effectiveness over time and so the farmer has to buy more and more to keep their crops "safe".) It's a lovely situation we've gotten ourselves into, where most of us are paying an arm and a leg just to eat. With deceptive marketing practices, it's hard to know exactly what you're getting unless you read the fine print. I guess the only way to fight back is to read labels exceptionally well, and to keep growing more and more of your own food. Hunt it, fish it, grow it, cook it, bake it yourself.
It all makes me so mad.

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