Hand In Hand: Oil And Packaged Food

Crude oil and industrial food. Two things that don't sound like they should go together, but inexplicably do. Well, maybe not so inexplicably after all.

We have everything we could ever want, but it comes at a price.

And that price varies depending on its supply or demand. Currently demand is high; supply is speculatively short. In times where the oil supply was abundant (the 1980s) we became extremely efficient in many ways because we let oil do the work for us. Soon enough there was so much promise in it, that we let oil dictate bigger sized portions at the lowest possible price. Everything was bigger, more, cheaper, faster.

And now, after re-evaluating the industrial sizing schema to super -sized everything, it seems that the market may be correcting itself.  Packages are getting smaller, containing less product but remaining around the same price as their former larger selves.

It's not such a bad idea, really. Americans obviously can't be trusted with a larger package, as can be measured by the 21st century pant size. But some of us have to ask: is the package even worth it?  Only about 30% of recyclables are even being recycled (and fact being that recycling, as great as it is in some ways, still produces toxic byproduct and encourages an irresponsible consumerism).

A New York Times article made an exquisitely stated point that acts as a good reminder as to why we should avoid labels as much as possible: "In every economic downturn in the last few decades, companies have reduced the size of some products, disguising price increases and avoiding comparisons on same-size packages, before and after an increase. Each time, the marketing campaigns are coy; this time, the smaller versions are 'greener' (packages good for the environment) or more 'portable' (little carry bags for the takeout lifestyle) or 'healthier' (fewer calories)."

But they don't change in packaged price, which - as the savvy shopper understands - is the actual price.

Recently, I noticed it with baby spinach. Packaged baby spinach at Whole Foods is around $9.50/lb.  The package consists of a bag of spinach encased in a plastic clamshell: together the packaging weighs as much as the spinach itself! And at least 60% of that packaging is directly destined for the landfill, which is growing at a rate in tandem with the population.

Food prices are going to go up, but considering that we pay less than 1/3 than our great grandparents spent 100 years ago, we can afford to brunt some of the costs that we've been shirking for so many years.
Photo credit:  Don Fulano