If the California drought is doing one thing, it’s making us aware of how interconnected everything is. For those who live on the other side of the country, or even just a few states away, the effects may not be immediate, but they are certainly noticeable. Food is the big one, as California produces nearly half of U.S. grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. And if there’s less water to make the agricultural system flourish, then the output dwindles. When output dwindles and supply falls, prices inevitably rise.
As the California drought got worse, people expected food prices to rise, but some foods are ending up with a bigger price tag than others. Which food is going to have the most dramatic price increase? Berries, which could rise up to 43 cents per clamshell container, according to EcoWatch.
The other food on the drought chopping block is, of course, avocados. California is the only major domestic source of avocados, and a negatively affected crop might make them go up 17 to 35 cents to as much as $1.60 each. Other foods on the list include broccoli, grapes, lettuce, peppers and almonds.
You could argue that the drought is nature’s way of telling us that we should stop eating certain foods for awhile. But this is the modern world, and instead of going without certain foods, the food industry will just find other places to get them.
“Because prices are going to go up so much, retailers will start looking elsewhere for produce,” Timothy Richards, a professor of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, told EcoWatch. “This means we’ll see a lot more imports from places like Chile and Mexico, which may be an issue for certain grocery customers who want domestic fruit and vegetables.”
Living in a system where we essentially have access to all foods, all the time, gives us the expectation that we should, and can, grow whatever we want, as long as we can find a way to do it. But that has its limits, especially when Mother Nature rears her head and reminds us that maybe we should think about a little crop diversification as well, especially in arid places that are prone to be more affected by drought.
But dealing with what’s grown is easier said than done.
“For a consistently reliable water supply, one of two things must happen: Crop selection must be modified or water delivery and use must be more rational. But trying to persuade politicians, farmers and even water conservation advocates to think about determining what’s grown may be nearly impossible,” wrote Mark Bittman in the New York Times.
While you may be dealing with more expensive berries and avocados, there’s one California crop that’s the thirstiest: meat. Not only the production of industrial meat, but the food it takes to raise them, namely, alfalfa. Even the grass-fed cows aren’t doing so well.
“Vegetables use about 11,300 gallons per ton of blue water; starchy roots, about 4,200 gallons per ton; and fruit, about 38,800 gallons per ton. By comparison, pork consumes 121,000 gallons of blue water per ton of meat produced; beef, about 145,000 gallons per ton; and butter, some 122,800 gallons per ton,” wrote James McWilliams earlier this spring in the New York Times. In fact, beef prices are currently at an all-time 30 year high.
It’s a reminder that higher prices at the grocery store aren’t just affecting your personal grocery bill. They are an indicator of a problem that is much more complex, and one that sooner or later we are going to have to deal with seriously.
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