Despite challenging economic times, there are plenty of reasons to be thankful
Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. When you’re raised in a big Southern family with a passel of good cooks, you look for any excuse to gather and eat—and Thanksgiving is the ultimate food-focused celebration. Whether spent back home in Tennessee or here in Missouri with my in-laws, the holiday feast must include some combination of turkey-and-dressing, green beans, cranberry salad, mashed potatoes, lots of rolls and plenty of pie.
This year, however, as families like mine shop for Thanksgiving groceries, the bill will likely be higher than it’s been in quite a while. That’s because skyrocketing inflation has pushed the food-at-home index, a measure of price changes at the grocery store, to a 43-year peak, an increase of 13% from this time last year. Prices are up in almost every food category.
The American Farm Bureau Federation hasn’t yet released its annual Thanksgiving meal cost projection, but no doubt it will surpass last year’s average of $53 to prepare a feast for 10 people. In 2020, the cost was estimated to be $47. This year, prices for a number of common Thanksgiving items continue to trend upward, according to the latest Labor Department data. That includes fresh rolls, which are up 17% over last year; frozen and refrigerated bakery items (such as pies) up 18%; canned fruit and vegetables up 16%; sauces and gravies up 17%; and potatoes up 15%.
The centerpiece of the meal, the Thanksgiving turkey, is expected to be even more expensive this year, thanks in part to a wave of avian flu that has tightened poultry supplies. The price per pound of an 8- to 16-pound turkey has risen to $1.99, a 73% increase from $1.15 in 2021, according to the USDA. Staples of the holiday baking season—such as butter, eggs and flour—are also among the hardest-hit products at the grocery store.
It’s important to point out that farmers and ranchers don’t get any richer from higher retail food prices. On average, the producer only gets 16 cents of every food dollar, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. In fact, like most sectors of the economy, agriculture has seen rising operating costs, including inputs, fuel, land, equipment and labor. As these expenses go up, farmers often struggle to remain competitive and profitable.
My family is blessed to be able to afford a spike in our grocery bill without major lifestyle changes, but I know that many others are not so fortunate. With surging inflation, along with higher costs for housing and fuel, food banks are seeing an increased need for assistance. Many families are hungry for help, both nationwide and close to home.
Feeding America, a national umbrella organization for food banks, reported a 15% increase in demand over the summer. Columbia-based Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri is serving around 10,000 more people a month across its service area than in 2021. Even in my small community outside Jefferson City, our church recently learned that the local food pantry had 11 new families seeking help in the past month.
Even as the need goes up, food banks everywhere are finding that donations are down. On top of that, there’s more demand for unemployment and utility assistance. Another mid-Missouri pantry recently reported they had experienced a 20-ton shortage of food since last July, along with a 17% increase in assistance requests.
For some struggling families, finding reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving may be difficult. The same is true for farmers who are dealing with persistent drought, disappointing crop yields and supply chain challenges. But I believe there are ample reasons to have an attitude of gratitude as the holiday season begins. We’ve enjoyed a beautiful fall with the most resplendent color in years. Crop harvest has progressed ahead of schedule, even if yields are widely variable. Market prices for grain and beef are looking favorable in the year ahead. And we work in one of the most respected, meaningful professions in the world—agriculture.
When the situation begins to seem bleak, remember these times shall pass. In the meantime, let’s help each other through them. Consider donating time, money or goods to a worthy cause such as your local food bank or other community need. Nothing will make you more grateful for what you have than sharing some of it with someone who has less.
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