However, global food prices hit a historic high this year because of the higher feed costs for grain and livestock, rising fuel costs, and overseas demand, according to Patrick Westhoff, who directs the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.
Although in recent days there has been a downward trend in corn and wholesale food prices, Westhoff predicts overall food prices will continue to rise about 4 percent — in keeping with Consumer Price Index estimates — through the end of the year, provided there are no more major weather disasters.
“It’s a big increase from last year, and it’s more than overall inflation,” Westhoff said. “For anybody who spends a large portion of a small income on food, this is a big deal, obviously.”
Meanwhile, Congress is weighing a budget proposal with more than $800 million in cuts to food assistance programs, including $733 million from the WIC nutrition program that could affect more than 300,000 women and children.
“For a low-income household that spends more of their income on food, a change in the price of milk is significant,” said Elaine Waxman, vice president of research for Feeding America, the country’s coalition of food banks. “It’s like the perfect storm: high [hunger], high unemployment and now we’re looking at food prices increasing at the highest rates we’ve seen in 20 years.”
Waxman says that the 43 million Americans who receive food stamps and the working poor are the hardest hit by rising prices because their food dollar is not stretching nearly as much.
An added burden locally is the high cost of living, the 11th-highest in the country, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research, which tracks the index quarterly.
District resident Stephanie Galloway, a 55-year-old receptionist, has seen her monthly grocery bill for herself and her 13-year-old granddaughter rise from about $90 to $150 in the past year. She’s had to cut out snacks and red meat, shop at three stores to get the best deals and augment her groceries with a small ration of food from Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church food pantry.
She said they have not gone hungry yet — no “missed meal cramps” — but she sometimes sacrifices and eats a piece of bread or a bowl of beans while reserving the day’s dinner for Jessica, a rising freshman in the District. But if prices rise any further, she can’t be sure what will happen.
“We might have to be like Tarzan and Jane and live in trees and eat leaves,” she said. “Everything’s going up, except for paychecks.”