’Tis the Season to Be Food-Insecure

Not everyone has enough to eat this holiday season, and there’s a reason.

A volunteer hands out free turkeys in Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 26, 2013.
A volunteer hands out free turkeys in Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 26, 2013. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

What does that mean? The cost of food is highest for the poorest people in America.

And that’s not the only culprit in the hunger games. The cost of food for everyone is rising—a fact that U.S. politicians seem to willfully ignore, while praising a relatively low inflation rate.

Herein lies the problem: The “core inflation rate” of 2 percent, measured by the Consumer Price Index, is a misleading figure, because it is reported excluding measures like food, gas and oil prices.

You’ve seen the price of chicken inching higher, right? That’s because the poultry CPI increased by 5.1 percent since this time last year. And fresh vegetable prices experienced an even steeper climb, up 6.5 percent since October of 2012.

Another problem is that the food supply took a hit the past two years as severe droughts ravaged the American heartland. And as weather patterns changed, the Mississippi River experienced unstable rises and falls, leading to a reduction of cross-river traffic and affecting the transport of food.

In addition, fuel prices remained high—not because of political unrest in the Middle East, but rather, due to the unbridled practice of speculative (and lucrative) commodity trading on Wall Street.

As oil and gas prices increase, so does the cost of transporting food. And the U.S. government’s subsidy of corn production for use in biofuels only serves to exacerbate the situation; it reduces the corn supply while having the unintended effect of raising prices.

The government passed the Commodity Exchange Act in 1936, at the height of the Great Depression, with the aim of limiting fuel and food speculation, and to protect both consumers and farmers from artificial manipulation of prices by bankers and investors. But, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi writes, “In 1991, the CFTC issued Goldman Sachs an exemption, which was then allowed to be used by other banks, to override these limits. An explosion in commodities prices ensued, and we are still paying the price today, with gas prices above $3/gallon, despite no change in oil on the market from 2007.”

And this is the backdrop to distracting political debates and the Republicans’ war on the poor: Failure to support Obama’s American Jobs Act; the incessant fight to cut funding for food stamps, unemployment benefits and Medicaid; the stagnation of immigration reform, which could increase jobs; and the failure to support an increase in the minimum wage all amount to food quite literally (and figuratively) being taken from the mouths of babes. All this, while the GOP remains committed to blocking full implementation of Dodd-Frank Financial Reform and pushing for a return to the days of deregulation. So Wall Street bankers get rich by artificially inflating oil and gas prices, as American children go hungry.

Fewer holidays become happy, and there is less and less reason to be thankful.