Eating less, paying more

Ali Gharib

Despite wall-to-wall media coverage of the financial crisis rocking the US and, increasingly, other financial systems around the world, a crisis with a larger scope is brewing with little attention. Many people around the globe are feeling the burden of higher food and energy prices, found a new international poll of 26 countries released ahead of World Food Day Thursday. The rising food prices, said the poll from the BBC World Service conducted by University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the polling firm Globescan, were sometimes so acute as to affect people’s eating habits, especially in developing countries.

“The financial crisis is taking up a tremendous amount of coverage in the media right now, but what is going to affect a larger number of people around the world [are the crises of rising energy and food costs],” Clay Ramsay, the research director at PIPA, said. “It’s important to see all these dimensions at once and not regard the financial crisis as the be-all and end-all of our problems.”

Ramsay said that the first of these crises involved energy costs, which subsequently affected food costs because of the fuel and electricity needed for production, transportation, and storage. “The financial crisis is the newest one — it’s the icing on a very bad-tasting cake,” Ramsay said. “All of these factors are going to interact, but the one that was the underlying one for many parts of the world was the increased energy costs. That has exacerbated the food crisis.”

With energy and food costs soaring of late, many perceive the increases as having a large effect on them, even leading some to cut down the amount of food they eat. “Majorities in each of the 26 countries included in the poll, except China, say they have been negatively affected by rising food and energy prices ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’,” said the BBC report from the poll. “Remarkably, close to 100% of citizens in several developing countries have been affected by rising food prices...”

Ninety-eight percent of respondents in Egypt and the Philippines responded this way, as did 96% of Kenyans and Indonesians, and 95% of Nigerians. In several of these developing nations, majorities said that food prices have affected what they eat. This was the case with 71% of respondents in Panama, 67% in Egypt, 64% in Kenya, 63% in the Philippines, and 57% in Mexico. Majorities of four of the 26 countries surveyed said how much they were eating has changed because of increasing food costs.

A poll released on Monday by PIPA on their website also confirmed that many in the US also agree that having enough to eat, as well as other concerns such as healthcare and education needs, are important basic rights that government should be tackling.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that the government is doing a “poor job” of ensuring everyone access to health care. “These findings show that the American public largely concurs with the principles presented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said the release of the poll results on “It states that ‘everyone has the right, medical care... [and] education.’ Signatories to the declaration commit ‘by progressive measures, national and international, to secure’ these rights.”