The latest report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on global food prices suggests that the era of cheap food may be over for good. The ‘perfect storm’ of factors predicted months ago – including drought, soaring oil prices and the increasing use of biofuels – has delivered an unprecedented spike in food costs, which the UN believes will leave prices at a permanently higher level than before.
This revelation may come as a shock to some, but to students of food history, it is all too familiar. Food, quite simply, has never been ‘cheap’. That it has appeared to be so to a minority of us for the past couple of generations has been the result of another ‘perfect storm’ – systemic destruction of natural habitat, human exploitation and the illusion of limitless energy fostered by the ‘oil age’ – that is also, thankfully, coming to an end.
How we go on from here is the question – and to a student of food history, one aspect of the answer is obvious. By seeing, understanding and shaping our actions through food. If we get that wrong, nothing else will matter.
US warns about rising food costs: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7424375.stm