Americans are witnessing frighteningly high rates of inflation — gasoline prices increase by 10 cents a day lately, it seems. Interest rates are rising and set to continue shooting up, compounding home affordability hampered by a seismic spike in home and land prices. In Vermont, used car prices have increased 21% in the last year (an average of $31,907 for a used car), and heating oil is approaching $7 per gallon. But the much greater threat is food inflation.
Food prices for many staples like bacon and hamburger have already shot skyward under what the Biden administration dismissed last year as “transitory” inflation and now blames on the War in Ukraine. The enormous infusions of newly printed (borrowed) money under COVID continues to trickle through the economy as inflation, undermining real wages, inflating asset values, and ultimately impacting vital industrial inputs such as fossil fuels. The industrial food system is particularly vulnerable to these pressures.
Fuels such as gasoline and diesel till the ground; plant the seed; spray the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; and harvest and transport the crop. But these and other fuels (especially natural gas) are the core resources from which modern synthetic fertilizers are derived, and other vital inputs such as potash and phosphorus must be shipped long distances. Fertilizer prices have doubled in the last year; plastic wrap, baling twine, and other essential haymaking supplies are scarce and very costly.
Consider a hamburger, with all the fixings. Commercial lettuce, tomatoes and onions will likely have been harvested using layers of fossil fuel inputs in some far distant location, then processed and transported to Vermont using yet more expensive energy (vegetables from Chile and China will soon be much more costly as well as less trustworthy and less fresh).
The cheese on your burger might be local, but if not it was manufactured with multiple fossil fuel inputs. The bun might seem simple enough, until one ponders how many field applications by tractors were involved in supplying the wheat from which it was baked. If the input costs of wheat production escalate permanently, the compounded impact on price is exponentially greater than the underlying commodity inflation.
This will become even more evident in the meat part — the burger is made from cows that convert grain and other feed as energy. Because most modern beef is raised in Confinement Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs), the cows are delivered feed derived from energy-intensive grain crops using industrial equipment. The entire American meat production system has become tightly integrated in recent decades, utterly dependent on cheap energy. As fuel prices escalate, the impact on food prices is likely to be cataclysmic. Sustained inflation will make the bulk of the nation’s industrial agricultural system economically as well as ecologically unsustainable.
Vermonters who remember the Great Depression will recall the dangers of dependency on others for food. But those same minds understand how very far short from that self-reliant agri-culture the Green Mountain State has become since. Farms have been decimated for 100 years, even more so under COVID, yet plans for EV cars and solar panels on every home, or equity panels to extirpate ancient Vermont sins, or more taxes to save the planet, continue to eclipse real work to improve local food security and availability. This should be the number one issue for the Vermont legislature, which has instead dithered with expanded criminalization of speech against so-called public servants, amending the Constitution for no practical effect, and distributing money and healthcare based on race and sexual preference.
My campaign slogan when I ran for Governor in 2020 was “Farms Close, Bureaucracy Grows!” That is more obvious now. The State of Vermont added tens of millions of dollars to the agriculture budget — to hire more bureaucrats to work for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets, while yet more dairy farms closed! These endless expansions of taxation and regulatory overreach have decimated our small farms, at the peril of all.
President Biden is aggravating fuel prices, inflaming social divisions, and targeting a nation’s liberties due to individual psychotic killers — but he does not appear to be concerned one bit about food. It is almost as if he is distracting voters from the most important issue in their lives: healthy sustenance.
That hamburger and the bun, cheese, and veggies — even the salt and special sauce — are all going to increase in cost while most citizens’ incomes stagnate or decline. Will the Vermont bureaucracy react as usual, and tax citizens into famine by invoking their poverty as grounds for another inefficient rescue “pogram”? When will the Vermont Legislature reaffirm the vital Vermont agrarian traditions that it has instead tarnished as racist, intolerant, and hateful? Why don’t we elect farmers to represent and provide for us in times of food crisis?
If the Vermont Legislature can’t fund pensions, restrain budgets, or tax people fairly, how can it possibly govern our food supplies? We need farmers to produce food: let the bureaucrats dine on their elitist cake while those who understand land stewardship have a voice.
Perhaps Vermonters could trade carbon credits from their pine trees for caviar from their wealthy climate-justice neighbors. Caviar is not as filling as a hamburger, but it’s better than snowballs.
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