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Iowa Hunger Summit tackles food, fuel debate

Iowa Hunger Summit

With rising prices for food and fuel, many Iowans face tough choices as they struggle to feed their families and also fill the gas tank. This was one of the issues up for discussion Oct. 14 at the second Iowa Hunger Summit, part of the 2008 World Food Prize events. ISU Extension specialists presented research and Iowa families shared their daily experiences in panel discussions examining aspects of the food and fuel debate.

“Food insecurity has increased significantly in Iowa over the last 10 years,” said Kim Greder, an ISU Extension family life specialist who is researching food insecurity and hunger in the state. Greder  helped organize one summit session, Reflecting on Iowa’s Changing Face of Family Hunger, in which Iowa families shared their perspectives and experiences about being food insecure.

Every day 421,000 Iowans do not have enough food to eat, Greder said. On average, 241,340 Iowans received Food Assistance (formerly called Food Stamps) each month in 2007, a 14 percent increase from 2005. In addition, requests to Iowa food pantries and soup kitchens increased 50 percent from 2003 to 2007 — from 1.4 to 2.1 million requests.

Another ISU Extension panel discussion examined the connections between fuel costs and food prices. ISU economist Chad Hart discussed the forces driving food prices, and extension economist John Lawrence discussed U.S. food consumption and cost trends. The economists note that 80 percent of the cost of food is due to events beyond the farm gate. While biofuel production has been one of the major reasons for higher commodity prices, it has little impact on food costs beyond the farm. Higher energy prices and general economic conditions also have impacts on food costs at and beyond the farm.

Extension family resource management specialist Cynthia Needles Fletcher discussed the effects of rising energy and food prices on families.

“Prices paid by consumers -- especially the prices of energy, food and transportation -- rose during the past year at the fastest pace since 1991,” Fletcher said.

“Wages, on average, have failed to keep up with consumer prices, eroding the purchasing power of family incomes,” she added. “Low-income families have born the brunt of this wage-price squeeze.”

This article appeared in October 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter