Get­ting a veg­gie fix in the face of ris­ing prices not al­ways easy

PressReader - LStep Channel - Get­ting a veg­gie fix in the face of ris­ing prices not al­ways easy
The Food Price Re­port 2019, re­cently re­leased by Dal­housie Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Guelph, sug­gests that veg­etable prices will go up by as much as six per cent next year.The six-per-cent in­crease is in ad­di­tion to the 4.8-per-cent hike that veg­etable prices un­der­went al­ready in 2018. Given that we could ex­pe­ri­ence a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year of sig­nif­i­cant price in­creases, many won­der whether eat­ing lo­cal pro­duce is the bet­ter op­tion.Well ... not quite.Global sup­ply chains have al­lowed us to be­come more ef­fi­cient and have given con­sumers more choices and af­ford­able food prod­ucts, but eat­ing lo­cal has its ad­van­tages, too. The en­vi­ron­men­tal case for eat­ing lo­cal is al­most undis­puted. You can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce your car­bon foot­print just by in­creas­ing your lo­cally grown food con­sump­tion. One other ad­van­tage of lo­cal foods is price con­sis­tency. That’s right, prices are per­haps gen­er­ally higher but much less volatile when short-cir­cuit distri­bu­tion sys­tems are in­volved.Case in point: the ro­maine let­tuce dis­as­ter in Novem­ber. Grown in Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona, fresh let­tuce is de­liv­ered to Cana­di­ans at a de­cent price. But with the re­cent e-coli out­break in ro­maine let­tuce, not only did some peo­ple get sick, the prices of leafy greens in Canada sky­rock­eted. With the Cana­dian Food In­spec­tion Agency pre­vent­ing ro­maine let­tuce from com­ing into Canada, im­porters had to pro­cure sim­i­lar prod­ucts else­where, and likely paid more to get these pre­cious salad greens into our stores. Con­sumers will want their leafy greens, even in win­ter, no mat­ter what.Many envy the sta­bil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity of lo­cal food sys­tems. They are eas­ily con­tain­able and, frankly, con­ve­niently man­age­able. Un­like global sup­ply chain sys­tems, trans­parency is a non-is­sue, since most pro­duc­ers usu­ally know each other.Sim­plic­ity has its virtues, but it also comes at a cost. Lo­cal foods are typ­i­cally 20 per cent to 40 per cent more ex­pen­sive than the cheapest im­ported sub­sti­tutes avail­able in the same mar­ket­place.Re­search shows that city dwellers are more likely to favour lo­cally grown or man­u­fac­tured food prod­ucts, for the sim­ple fact that agri­cul­ture is of­ten a dis­tant con­cept to them. Buy­ing lo­cal is the one way to feel a real con­nec­tion with agri­cul­ture and farm­ers. There is also more wealth in cities ver­sus ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Although price re­mains a con­sid­er­a­tion for ur­ban dwellers, it is more im­por­tant to less wealthy con­sumers liv­ing in ru­ral ar­eas. And that is where global sup­ply chains come in.The fact that Canada is an open econ­omy has both ad­van­tages and draw­backs. Given that Cana­di­ans have ac­cess to the fifth most af­ford­able food bas­ket in the world, rel­a­tive to house­hold in­come, global sup­ply chains ap­pear to be serv­ing them well.So, don’t de­spair: get­ting our veg­etable fix from all over the world is not such a bad idea. Our nordic cli­mate does not give us many op­tions. But global sup­ply chains do come with their fair share of risks, which in turn gen­er­ate price volatil­ity.And buy­ing lo­cal pro­duce can be crit­i­cal to our agri-food econ­omy. In many parts of the coun­try, it is ap­par­ent that lo­cal veg­etable pro­duc­tion is a pri­or­ity, through ver­ti­cal farms, green­houses us­ing novel tech­nolo­gies, and other ini­tia­tives. Ac­cess to more lo­cally grown veg­eta­bles, and strik­ing a bal­ance be­tween lo­cal and global, will be key.But price hikes af­fect­ing veg­eta­bles are a chal­lenge for many right now, es­pe­cially those with lim­ited means. As such, vis­it­ing the freezer aisle may not be such a bad idea. It may not taste the same as the fresh ver­sion, but you will get the same nutri­tional value out of these frozen veg­gies.Fi­nally, one piece of good news: au­thors of the Food Price Re­port 2019 do sug­gest the price of both meat and fish prod­ucts will drop next year, by up to three per cent. This is a first in the study’s nine-year his­tory. So, meat lovers can re­joice and can do their own happy dance around the BBQ next sum­mer. Just don’t for­get to eat your veg­gies. Syl­vain Charlebois is pro­fes­sor in Food Distri­bu­tion and Pol­icy, and Se­nior Di­rec­tor, Agri­food An­a­lyt­ics Lab, at Dal­housie Univer­sity.

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