It’s all about priorities

From the AP newswire:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some top international food scientists Tuesday recommended halting the use of food-based biofuels, such as ethanol, saying it would cut corn prices by 20 percent during a world food crisis.

But even as the scientists were calling for a moratorium, President Bush urged the opposite. He declared the United States should increase ethanol use because of national energy security and high gas prices.

What, exactly, should be our priorities here? Should ensure affordable foods or affordable fuels? From a world perspective, the answer is nearly obvious – food before fuel.

But Americans are a different breed when it comes to food, and to disregard that is to miss little nuances in the American food distribution model. Take the following section from a piece from the New York Times called Recession Diet Just One Way to Tighten Belt:

Though seemingly small, the daily trade-offs they are making — more pasta and less red meat, more video rentals and fewer movie tickets — amount to an important shift in consumer behavior.

In Ohio, Holly Levitsky is replacing the Lucky Charms cereal in her kitchen with Millville Marshmallows and Stars, a less expensive store brand.

Considering the fact that there the difference between Lucky Charms and Millville Marshmallows and Stars is minute, the cost added to Lucky Charms comes from added marketing costs and slotting fees placed on products. From my perspective, there are several grocery store products that should be replaced by lower cost items, for their value is inflated and brings nothing additional to the consumer. Is there really any difference between a five dollar box of Cheerios and a two dollar bag of Oat Circles? Some could argue taste, but there are many food products where taste has been molded and shaped by marketing, not by the actual quality of the product.

This is not to infer that there aren’t products feeling the pinch in regard to the market forces. From the same New York Times article:

Ms. Dunaway, a homemaker, used to splurge on the ingredients for homemade lasagna, her husband’s favorite, before food prices began to surge this year.

“Now he’s lucky to get a 99-cent lasagna TV dinner, or maybe some Manwich out of a can,” she said. “I just can’t afford to be buying all that good meat and cheese like I used to.”

(snip)

Mary Gregory, 55, a telephone company operator in Cleveland, used to eat red meat at least once a week. Now it is hardly ever on her menu. “I usually buy turkey instead,” she said. “Any recipe that calls for meat, like chili or spaghetti, I try to substitute turkey.”

Back to the main question: What should be our priorities? Food or Fuel? People are still eating here in the states, just not as “extravagantly” as before. Is the fact that people are eating home cooked meals rather than means a Ruby Tuesday a bad thing? Or do we focus on the fact that peanut butter sales are up while meat sales are down?