In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family’s dinner table.
Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we’ve seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet’s poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute — and it has — to revolutions and upheaval.
This weekend, I went back to the scene of the crime — Crazy Go Nuts University — to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my graduating year, Science ’91 (Yes, I started off my academic career as an electrical engineer, and followed the grand tradition of switching to computers). It was great seeing all my classmates, whom I met waaay back in 1987, and we had a grand old time and some of the old haunts: Clark Hall Pub, Alfie’s, Wolfe Island and AJ’s (it’s since been renamed "The Ale House"). Although I got so engrossed in conversations and catching up that I took nowhere near as many photos as I should have, I did take some, and I’ll post them later this week.
It was great seeing the gang, and my special thanks to Kelli Pallett and Dave McDonnell for organizing the engineering reunion!
Pictured above: Kelli Pallett, Yours Truly, Todd Armstrong (he’s technically Science ’92, but he’s one of us!).
I’m about to set off on a drive to Crazy Go Nuts University, where this weekend my original class — Applied Science ’91 — will be celebrating their 20th anniversary. It’s kind of hard to believe that we started post-secondary back in September 1987.