The politics of food

By Ivan Morgan
September 15, 2023

$508 million. That’s half a billion dollars. That’s how much profit just one of the Canadian grocery chains, Loblaws, made in the last fiscal quarter (that’s three months).

Good for them. Bad for you.

Food is getting more and more expensive (not to mention heat, housing, and fuel – but this week I am on about food), putting financial pressure on most of us. Prices are continuously rising and show no sign of stopping or going down.

Nothing seems to be done about it. While one would think food prices were (ahem) an apple pie issue (ironically, fewer folks can afford apple pie) there seems to be no incentive among politicians to offer meaningful solutions.

The politics of food interests me. Food is a necessity. Yet politically this food crisis doesn’t seem to have much traction. Why is this? We all have to eat.

The federal Liberals had a parliamentary committee inquiry, but that was just to allow politicians to be seen looking like they are doing something – grandstanding to show they care.  Am I cynical? No, that’s what inquiries are for. I have covered many of them. Think Muskrat Falls Inquiry. It sits on a shelf like all the others.

A takeaway from the grocery inquiry was the idea of a windfall tax on food products. It sounds like a good idea: it’s never going to happen. We live in a corporate economy where making money is encouraged.

Then the federal Liberals decided on a grocery rebate, basically giving many of us back our own money. It’s no solution. It doesn’t bring down prices. All it really does is put more money in grocery store coffers (see above). That’s just kicking the can down the road. There was an independent study done. The report recommended more competition among vendors. I wonder how much that study cost. 

The internet is full of articles explaining why grocery prices continue to rise. It’s the lack of competition. It’s the oil companies. It’s greedy supermarket corporations. It’s labour unions. It’s the heartless banks raising interest rates. It’s the suppliers. And on and on.

Loblaw’s themselves blamed their suppliers, saying they are jacking their prices up. Yet the price of basic commodities are all down significantly this summer – wheat prices are down 47 per cent since last year; corn is down 22 per cent; soy is down 23 per cent; etcetera. 

According to university studies I read, cheaper basics don’t always translate into lower prices. They list a lot of other factors which influence price: packaging, shipping, and taxes. 

One factor they don’t list is greed.

You can read all the articles and university studies you want trying to get your head around the forces at play. Or you can just open your eyes.

Notice that there are fewer employees and more self-checkouts in the grocery stores.

Notice your supermarket has more and more gates and barriers at the entrance. Notice the “greeter” you now see at many supermarkets (hint: they’re not greeters).

Notice that corporate profits on grocery sales are at an all time high. (Remember that $508 million).

Connect the dots. This is about squeezing every last dollar out of you they can. And getting away with it.

When elections come around, you’ll hear a lot from all the parties about leadership, bold visions for the future, trusted stewards of the economy, etcetera. Where is all that now when we need it?

What about retired folks on a fixed income? What about people with kids trying to keep them all fed? How about the rest of us? Why is this not a bigger issue?

Is it because politicians can’t do anything about it? Is it because they don’t have any ideas? Or is it because you and I haven’t made it the issue it should be?

What are the solutions? I read a lot of political stuff from all the parties and one solution seems to be to distract you with other issues. Change the subject, so to speak. I am not here to diminish other issues. Maybe I am just old fashioned and out of touch, but I suspect this is an important issue with regular folk.

The desire for success in politics is often described in food terms. One has a “thirst for power”; a group is “hungry for success.” We all eat. We all feel the pressure of rising food costs. Where’s the political hunger? The political thirst to ride our frustration into power?

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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