Sky-high staples: Tahoe-Truckee residents feel the pinch of rising prices for basic food
April 27, 2008
A substantial spike in global food prices coupled with the dramatic oil inflation has taken its toll on the American economy, generating hardships for Tahoe-Truckee residents trying to make ends meet and provide for a family.
In an effort to pinch pennies, local consumers are making more trips to Reno for groceries, reaching out to hunger relief organizations like Project MANA and switching up some items on the grocery list to save money.
“I have two teenage boys and it’s very challenging to keep them fed,” said Karen Rogers, a West Shore resident. “I should buy down, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Health is too important to me.”
Rogers ” a middle to upper class resident ” said her strategy is shopping at Costco and Trader Joe’s in Reno three times a month where she can purchase organic food in bulk or on sale.
“I think it’s a better deal to go to Reno, I get more food for my money,” she said. “It’s so time consuming ” that’s the only downfall. Time is money.”
To cope with the spike in her grocery bill, Rogers said she’s had to cut back spending in other areas.
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“Over the last couple of years, the average Costco trip cost around $200 to $250. Now, it’s around $350 to $400,” Rogers said. “I’m the one that really loses out. I don’t shop for clothes and I take on odd jobs to supplement a little more.”
“There’s really no money for extra stuff,” she added.
In mid-April, the United States Department of Labor reported a 4.4 percent increase in food prices over the past 12 months, with the price of bread up 14.7 percent than a year earlier, and the price of milk up 13.3 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index report.
“In general, consumers need to be more aware of what they’re purchasing,” said Dave Heylen, spokesman for the California Grocers Association. “Clip coupons or go to the store with a list to reduce spending.”
However, living in a resort community where wages are often dependent on seasonal work has forced more local residents to rely on relief programs ” especially as the shoulder season nears. One program that has seen increased traffic is the weekly food distribution offered by Project MANA.
“Over the last three weeks, we’ve been getting slammed,” said MANA’S Executive Director George LeBard. “It’s usually busier in the shoulder season, but I haven’t seen this many clients in probably 10 years.”
The food distribution service provides fresh produce and dairy products to North Shore and Truckee residents, and LeBard said while the Kings Beach location serves a weekly average of 40 families. That number spiked to 88 last week.
“I’m a little bit worried,” LeBard said. “With seasonal work, people have to struggle a bit more. They do it, they survive, but it’s a struggle.”
Hardships in North Lake Tahoe may not be as burdening as other areas of the world like West Africa, the Middle East and South America where price hikes have spurred food riots. But for Truckee resident Cecilia Murphy the sky-rocketing prices have forced her family to develop new penny-pinching strategies.
The single mother of four said she clips coupons, shops in Reno, has cut back on luxury expenses like clothing and sticks to purchasing discount items.
“My kids know when we’re shopping, unless it’s on sale, don’t ask,” said Murphy, a financial counselor at Tahoe Forest Hospital.
Another adjustment the family has made is trading beef products for ground turkey, chicken and pork, she said.
“We don’t buy beef anymore because it’s so expensive to feed the family,” Murphy said. “We have to be economical about our choices.”
With escalating food costs, high prices at the pump and a rash of home foreclosures, it may be difficult to find light at the end of the tunnel.
But Mark Pingle ” a University of Reno economics professor ” said while the oil problem won’t be solved overnight, he is optimistic that the United States’ economy will bounce back.
Additionally, Pingle said unless gas prices double, food inflation will be a short-term issue and price increases in the future won’t follow current trends.
“When you look at the history, the downturns tend to be temporary,” Pingle said. “There’s usually a silver lining in the cloud.”