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Food prices not rising like petroleum



Article Published: Apr. 21, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

Talk around town is how much it takes to fill the tank these days.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average cost of a gallon of gas in our region has risen ninety cents over the past year.

The United States imported about 51 percent of the petroleum, which includes crude oil in 2009. Crude oil prices are currently at their highest level since 2008. Oil markets will continue to tighten over the next two years given expected robust growth in world oil demand and slow growth in supply. These conditions result in an expected drawdown of global petroleum stocks ( http://www.eia.gov).

Food production in the U.S. relies heavily on petroleum. But, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2011, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food is projected to increase only 3 to 4 percent. Grocery store prices are forecast to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent, while restaurant prices are forecast to increase 3 to 4 percent. This is due to higher energy and food commodity prices, along with strengthening global food demand.

We Americans are faring well when you look at some of the poor countries. The United Nation's Food and Agricultural Organization released figures in February 2011 showing that global food prices have risen 41 percent since June of 2010, primarily due to a combination of bad weather and an increase in global demand.

Producing food within our community is like holding an insurance policy in a chaotic world. Our local, small farms use some petroleum, but far less than the industrial food system that has been created over the past 60 years.

Our family farms have smaller machinery and use fewer inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides. The food produced travels just a few miles to plate, instead of the typical 1,500. When small farms are supported, demand is increased and agriculture becomes a viable career for those who want a different lifestyle or are unemployed due to globalization. More local farms mean better community food security and a stronger local economy.

You can't get more local than your own home garden. I know many people who grow almost all their food in the summer, canning and freezing it to last all year long. Food security is only one of the benefits of growing your own.

If I have to recommend one vegetable to grow, it's asparagus. You must be patient, but after waiting 3 years, it comes up in April every year. Just walk outside, cut your stalks, and they are ready to cook. You will have asparagus abundance for five to six weeks. I like to freeze some of the stalks and cook others in soups and casseroles to freeze. An easy way to prepare freshly cut stalks is in the microwave. This recipe is fast and yummy:

Asparagus with Tarragon
16 asparagus stalks
1 tablespoon butter or reduced fat, no trans-fat margarine
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon, or 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh
Corning-ware type baking pan with lid

After washing stalks, place them in microwavable pan with lid. Add 1/4 inch water to pan and cover. Cook in microwave for 3 minutes. Drain water and stir in butter and tarragon, tossing to coat asparagus. Serves 4.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups and is the local food coordinator for Watauga County. To contact Margie, e-mail margie_mansure@ncsu.edu or call (828) 264-3061.

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