There’s an old song that goes, “Tomatoes are cheaper, potatoes are cheaper — now’s the time to fall in love.”

America's $1.2 billion Thanksgiving dinner

Larry Waterfield

Well, this Thanksgiving a lot of the foods were cheaper — cheaper than last year.

Americans spent roughly $1.2 billion on Thanksgiving dinner, which is down 4% from last year.

These figures are compiled each year by the American Farm Bureau Federation and cover a typical Thanksgiving meal for 10 people.

The cost this year was a little over $42, or $4.20 per person, for turkey and all the trimmings, cranberries, sweet potatoes, rolls, pumpkin pie, celery, carrots, dairy items, the works.

The Texas Farm Bureau, in its own survey, found that a bargain hunter could get these same items for as low as $28. Sweet potatoes ranged in price from $1.29 a pound down to 25 cents a pound.

The Farm Bureau survey gets picked up by the media around the country, which is one of the few instances of good news in a flood of bad news about the food we eat.

In the past two weeks, here were some of the stories and events involving the food supply:

  • obesity costs are climbing;
  • food safety concerns grow;
  • population growth may outrun the food supply;
  • food production will be cut by global warming;
  • poor countries are leasing their good land to foreign producers;
  • commercial growing techniques threaten the planet;
  • food insecurity affects 49 million Americans; and
  • a world food summit in Rome attacks the current system for its deficiencies and inequalities.

The Pope, who attended the summit, echoed the concerns.

“It’s a known fact that the world has enough food for all of its inhabitants,” he said.

But he decried the inability to get the food to the people who need it.

So with all this going on, the Thanksgiving bargain story was a mere blip on the screen, if noticed at all. The nation’s food groups were quick to point out the abundance at a reduced cost — but this was preaching to the choir.
Is something good news if no one hears about it? The Thanksgiving story needs to also be seen in the context of two years of awful economic news:

  • 10% unemployment, and climbing;
  • the loss of trillions in investment money;
  • a stagnant economy and sinking stock market; and
  • economic times so bad they are now called The Great Recession.

Into this jungle comes a tiny little story about food being a bargain. It could be headline news. Usually it was presented as a one-liner or as filler.

One of the world’s richest corporations, Microsoft, did get into the act, basically bashing the commercial food industry and urging people to shop for food grown locally and sold at farmers markets. It was ostensibly a television ad for its new Windows 7 operating system, which is replacing the poorly received Vista system.

It was a strange ad. On the one hand it was right to promote local food buying. It was strange to denounce shipping food over long distances. Basic economics says that comparative advantage and opportunity costs dictate that food may be grown far away and shipped to places that need it and want it and that spend their resources on other things, such as making Microsoft software.

Ironically, the week the TV ad ran my own local farmers market closed for the season.

The market ran every Saturday from May to November, and sold locally grown produce — although local could mean a considerable truck ride away.

The produce there is good, fresh, with good flavor and appearance. The prices are high, and the buyers are the generally affluent.

They don’t need bargains. They don’t get bargains there.

Now that cold weather is here we will continue to buy fresh produce, and from Florida, Texas, California, Mexico, or the Caribbean. We’ll do it even if it offends Microsoft. For example, we just bought a big bag of peel-and-eat mandarin oranges from California.

Of course we know that many computer companies manufacture overseas and even go to far-off, exotic places to get software and to find software creators. Maybe they should only source locally.

One of the biggest threats to prosperity is inflation — the steady rise in prices that wipes out wage gains and crushes people on fixed incomes, such as retirees. Gas prices are going up, medical costs, drug prices.

The food price bargains will keep inflation low, and will help millions of people in these darker economic times.

There’s plenty of food, and food insecurity will diminish through enhanced food stamps, expanded feeding programs, school lunch and school breakfasts.

It’s mainly a matter of distribution. No one should go hungry amid all this abundance.

The abundance at reasonable and declining prices will give millions of people a brighter Christmas and New Year’s season and extend through the winter months.

They will gladly eat the food shipped across the country, and will welcome the nourishment and the bargain prices.

They will be thankful for small blessings — even if the self-satisfied elites are not.


What's your take on food prices? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.