A grim Thanksgiving: skyrocketing food prices mean difficult choices for many Americans

Many food banks in US are reporting bare shelves and fewer donations this year

The last week of every month is always hard for Leonard Edwards, a 61-year-old veteran who lives on a fixed income of $1,500 in the Washington area.

At the best of times, he barely has anything left in the bank at the end of the month. Now, with rocketing prices in supermarkets across the country, it has become even more difficult for him to meet his nutritional needs.

“Everything is much higher,” Mr Edwards told The National. “I mean, I used to walk out of the store, spend $50, I had five bags of groceries. Now, I’ll spend $50 and I got one bag.”

Mr Edwards relies on Bread for the City, a food bank in Washington’s Shaw neighbourhood, to keep food on the table through the end of the month.

“That last week of the month is always the tightest week, and with Bread for the City’s help, I'm able to continuously eat fresh produce and fruit throughout the month,” Mr Edwards said.

But the rising price of food is eating away at Bread for the City’s ability to help those in need.

“We're not getting as many food donations from people, so that's been a huge impact,” said Kenrick Thomas, communications and events manager at the food bank.

“We're also paying a lot more now for food, which has also been an impact for our programme.”

Every year during the holidays, Bread for the City offers people a $75 debit card to help pay for meals, though this amount does not go as far as it used to.

And the nation's capital is not the only place experiencing the squeeze.

In Los Angeles, the LA Regional Food Bank reported that the number of people it serves has tripled from 300,000 to more 900,000 since the pandemic began.

This means about 10 per cent of the population of Los Angeles County is now relying on the food bank’s help every month.

The LA Regional Food Bank is one of the largest in the country and so far, it has been able to stave off the effects of inflation and rising prices thanks to its proximity to California's bountiful farms.

“Most of our food donations are from farmers and growers, and wholesalers and distributors,” said David May, director of marketing and communications at the food bank.

But many food banks in the US do not have that luxury and are being stretched to the limit this year.

This Thanksgiving is one of the most expensive on record, the American Farm Bureau Federation reported, and there are several factors at play.

“These include dramatic disruptions to the US economy and supply chains over the past 20 months, inflationary pressure throughout the economy, difficulty in predicting demand during the Covid-19 pandemic and high global demand for food, particularly meat,” said Veronica Nigh, senior economist at the bureau.

The cost for a seven kilogram Turkey this year is about $24 – a 24 per cent increase from last year.

However, the cost will not deter Mr Edwards, who said he was looking forward to cooking a turkey, but he acknowledged he will have to shop carefully.

“I don't eat what I want to eat. I eat what they put on sale," he said.

This is the new reality for millions of Americans, and if inflation keeps rising many more will face the same difficult and limited choices.

Updated: November 24th 2021, 6:32 PM
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