Food Prices and Well-Being

By: Ellen Albritton

This NY Times article talks about the recent report published by the United Nations about food prices reaching record highs. As certain foods have experienced higher price jumps than others, certain individuals and populations will be differently affected as a result of their specific diets. While many of us have the privilege of not having to worry about slight to moderate increases in our food expenses, for many of the world’s poor, even minimal increases can translate into disastrous consequences.

In the Daniels reading from this past week, adequate nutrition is specifically mentioned as a health need that is necessary for normal human functioning. The diminished access to adequate nutrition that will result from higher food prices will no doubt affect the health dimension of well-being from Powers and Faden, but other dimensions of well-being will be similarly affected. Powers and Faden specifically used the example of the constraints that food insecurity would place on self-determination. Are people really free to make their own decisions about their lives if they don’t know where their next meal is coming from? What things may someone who is desperate for food choose to do, that under normal circumstances they would never choose? And how will those decisions made under duress affect their overall well-being?

Not having enough to eat would also greatly affect a child’s ability to get the most out of the education they are receiving. Powers and Faden state that without the knowledge gained through an education, it is almost impossible to be able to exercise reason. Lacking the fullest ability to reason would certainly affect a person long after the immediate food crisis has passed. Although not as immediately obvious as reasoning, health, or self-determination, the personal security of an individual could also be put at risk by these rising food prices. In 2008 many countries experienced dangerous and disruptive riots as a result of skyrocketing food prices, and people who are desperate to feed their families may take drastic action against others to fight off hunger.

We discussed in class how Catholic Social Teaching takes the position that free markets are not without moral considerations. How might we apply this position to the global food market? In what ways are our current patterns of consumption and/or government policies in the United States and other developed countries contributing to the rising food prices? How we can change these patterns of consumption and policies so that they focus on the global, common good and not just our own benefit?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Food Prices and Well-Being

  1. amcerlean

    In a society that is beginning to increase promotion of eating healthy foods and exercising daily, it is unfortunate that many people cannot do this without great financial burden. Ellen, I agree that this is an issue that affects various aspects of well-being and needs greater attention. Until prices decrease, I think that educating people on how to prepare healthy meals with more inexpensive food staples (e.g., whole grain pasta, beans, canned or frozen veggies) can help create a healthier diet for less. Programs like WIC provide both financial assistance for food and nutrition education. By increasing knowledge and confidence in the kitchen, these programs can help people create meals that are both nutritious and inexpensive. This is not a long-term solution to the issue at hand, but small changes may help make a big difference.

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