We spend less today on food that we have in the past.
Many issues come into play when we consider food costs in America. There are also many ways to talk about them, in terms of household budgets, limits of access to food, choices about the types of food we choose to buy, and where we spend our money. One of the factors in food cost determination is the impact a changing climate may have on prices.
The average American household spends 6% less of their income on food today than thirty years ago.
Globally, food is getting cheaper relative to incomes—Americans spend less on food than any other county. At the same time, more than 13% of American families in 2015 struggled to get enough food on the table during the year.
How we spend our money on food is changing. Americans are spending more eating out, than eating at home. Some research points at slightly higher costs associated with healthy eating; one study estimated on average people pay $1.50 more a day, or about $550 a year, but the health advantages of a diet built around fruits and vegetables and lean proteins is clear.
While both access to and affordability of food remain an issue to grapple with, changing climate also has an impact on food prices. An increase in extreme heat and weather events can damage crops, and changing rainfall patterns can impact crops as well, driving prices higher.
Reduced crop yields often lead to higher food prices
Extreme heat: Damage from heat-tolerant weed species can lead to crop losses.
Extreme weather events: Droughts, hurricanes, and flooding can erode soil and damage crops.
Changing rainfall patterns: Dry periods and heavy rains can erode soil and damage crops.
Rising sea level: Rising tides can erode soil and higher salinity can damage crops.
Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2016). Household Food Security in the United States in 2015. USDA ERS.
Schnepf, 2013. Consumers and Food Price Inflation. Congressional Research Service. 7-5700 . R40545 https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40545.pdf
Rao M, Afshin A, Singh G, et al., 2013 Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis BMI Open 3:e004277. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004277
Hungry Planet: What The World Eats – TIME Magazine
American's Shrinking Grocery Bill – Bloomberg
Food Price Database – Numbeo
Climate Change: The Unseen Force Behind Rising Food Prices? – World Watch Institute
Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? – New York Times
Eating healthy vs. unhealthy diet costs about $1.50 more per day – Harvard School of Public Health
Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Midwest – Union of Concerned Scientists
Global Food Costs in Pictures depicts everything that an average family consumes in each week—and what it costs—in countries across the globe.
"In 1984, the average U.S. household spent 16.8 percent of its annual post-tax income on food. By 2011, Americans spent only 11.2 percent. The U.S. devotes less of its income to food than any other country—half as much as households in France and one-fourth of those in India."
Check out the prices of foods around the world and in your own community.