Monday, June 6, 2011

And the Pain Keeps Marching On

Last week there were reports in various media, made by those supposedly in the know about these things, that food stuffs are expected to double in price by ten years from now. So, in 2011 whatever you are paying for food now, you'll be paying double then. In the grand scheme of things ten years is not all that long a time period.

What with yom tov coming, company for meals and a large kiddush in the house I've been doing a lot of shopping last week and this week. One thing I can tell you--the prices this year for produce are far higher than they were a few years ago, particularly given that we are in the growing season for a lot of this produce, a time when the prices traditionally used to go down. Now granted, prices have risen and risen steeply since I got married 39-1/2 years ago. No, we are never going to see 39 cents for a pound of ground chuck anymore. And I don't imagine we'll see 5 cents for an apple or 19 cents for a dozen eggs either. But given the steep rise just in the last few years when you are talking double you are talking serious money just for food.

And here is one thing I can predict, and I don't have to be a Harvard-trained economist to do so: wages will not double in the next ten years. While there has been a lot of discussion about which foods might be considered as wants or luxuries and which ones not, no one has found an alternative to eating to stay alive--we all have to do it, one way or the other. Ten years from now it just might be the other because for a whole lot of people the money just won't be there to buy everything they want or need.

Those who can't seem to get the knack for budgetting (or who don't see any reason to do so) are so going to be in big trouble in ten years from now. JS once asked me what I predict Klal is going to look like 50 years from now. Not sure about the 50 but I can tell you something about ten years from now: we are going to be in deep trouble unless we put into place some workable fixes now. We are already having trouble providing for the huge number of people with insufficient funds to maintain themselves and their families without outside help. A lot of that help involves providing food. If we are barely making it now, just how does anyone expect that we will continue giving that assistance ten years from now when costs are double? This I will predict--the programs will change and so will the recipients. I can see where any number of those programs are going to limit their donations of food to only those who are in desperate need despite trying to provide for themselves The key is provide for themselves. Those who think that working is antithetical to the frum life are going to be in for a really big surprise--if you don't work you won't eat. The entitlement mode of thinking is going to have to be scrapped (and I for one won't mind its demise at all) and young couples are going to have to face the music right from the beginning of their lives together.

Yup, it's going to be little things like potatoes, and tomatoes, and flour, and eggs and the whole panoply like them that are finally going to force some changes out of necessity. A lot of people in Klal right now are juggling any number of financial balls trying to keep afloat. Double the cost of food and those balls are going to come tumbling down.


Mark said...

We have a saying in my house - "compared to tuition, it's nothing"


tesyaa said...

I was trying to explain to someone how every single Shabbos, we all eat more luxuriously than any of our ancestors ate even for their finest yom tov meals. No one needs 4 different side dishes at a single meal, ever.

Anonymous said...

You're over generalizing tesyaa. None of our ancestors? Speak for yourself only--mine ate quite luxuriously for their time period. Where do you think I got all the recipes from that I use?

And no one ever needs 4 side dishes at a meal? Are pickles a side dish? That's one. Making a tossed salad? Use lettuce and only 2 other vegetables and you've hit that 4 number that nobody needs. Know anyone who would consider that a piece of protein, a pickle and lettuce would make a hearty meal? No, not being too detailed. Those veggies in the salad count separately.

And where is there a balanced meal in that meal? Might surprise you but a lot of people do need those 4 sides served to a meal and sometimes more. Unless you are the world's #1 authority on nutrition stop counting what's in somebody elses plate. You don't want to serve 4 sides is your business. What I and others serve is our business, and it has nothing to do with your definition of needing.

Tuvi said...

Getting back to the general point of the posting, if the predictions are accurate and the price of food doubles then feeding programs will indeed be in trouble in ten years. Even if salaries were to go up 5% a year--and they aren't--that would still not give us enough in discretionary tzedaka spending money to cover the new cost of the food.

Consider this as well. Do you really think that yeshiva tuitions won't go up in the next 10 years? That other aspects of our spending, such as shul dues and seats won't go up? Forget keeping up with the Joneses--we are already at a point where we can barely keep up with ourselves, and it's only going to get more expensive.

And if food doubles, the money to pay for it will have to be taken from other things that we pay for. That means that tzedaka dollars will be fewer and more people will have to opt out of sending to yeshiva or will be asking for reduced tuition. If you think today is bad, just think about 10 years from now. Time to cut back, cut down, cut out now not when it becomes an emergency.

JS said...

Thanks for the shoutout :).

I've been hearing for a while that food costs are going up (and they certainly have), didn't realize they were expected to double in the next 10 years. That's pretty frightening. However, I would note that income doesn't have to double in 10 years to allow people to afford the food they current buy. That would only be the case if everything else people buy also doubles in that 10 year time frame.

That said, there are an awful lot of people who, today, don't have enough to eat. The vast majority of the tzedaka I give goes to soup kitchens and the like. I consider it some amalgam of "im ein kemach ein torah" (if there's no sustenance, there's no Torah) and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Everyone is obviously free to give to whatever charities their hearts desire, but I would urge people to reconsider where they give - someone's ability to put food on the table is more important than someone else's ability to put together a nice wedding.

The next decade is going to be a very interesting one for klal and I mean "interesting" in the sense of that purported old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." Cracks are already forming along the edges and I expect the fissures will widen and deepen. We simply have too many expenses and not enough income - both on a personal and on a communal level.

I have very little faith that this will be sorted out efficiently or even at all by those in charge. The fact that MO schools are starting to offer "middle income" scholarships to those earning under $250k just shows how completely out of whack our priorities are. Further, our communities are obsessed with funding the yeshivas which are bleeding red ink. It's always about more money for the yeshivas and never (at least publicly) about changing the model or at least severely cutting expenses. When all communal resources (time and money) are devoted to this one singular issue, everything else falls by the wayside.

As always, everything is tied up in the tuition debate.

To enter the fray above between tesyaa and anonymous, there's no question we greatly overspend and overprepare for shabbat and yom tov meals. Heck, I'm guilty of this as well. People can do whatever they like if they can afford it. But, more often than not, people making large meals are being subsidized, in a sense, by the community if they are on scholarship. Again, all goes back to wants and needs and what we should and shouldn't be funding. No easy answers. But, I think it's indicative of overall problems that we can't have intelligent debate on these issues mostly because every want/need is a religious requirement of some sort. So you have tuition and kavod shabbos/yom tov as religious necessities forgetting the fact that expensive private school and exquisite multi-course meals are luxuries.

PS Since when is a salad counted as multiple side dishes because it has multiple vegetables in it?

tesyaa said...

exquisite multi-course meals are luxuries

This is what I was getting at. There's no doubt in my mind people eat too much on Shabbos and Yom Tov. When people have guests, they ramp up not just quantities but variety and quality and exoticism of foods as well. Of course they want to impress their guests to some extent. That's all well and good, but if you have company every week, it's like giving a dinner party every week. Who gives a dinner party every week (or is invited to one), if they are not affluent?

Not to mention that this luxurious weekly dinner party often follows a shul kiddush that is more than cake and soda. Lots of shuls serve cholent on a weekly basis, even if there is no simcha being celebrated. Who needs a big Shabbos meal on top of a kiddush? Challah, fruit and salad should suffice anyone who ate at a cholent kiddush. Yes or no?

tesyaa said...

JS, I'm sure you will get indignant comments about how just because people are on scholarship, they are not exempt from hachnasas orchim and they shouldn't have to give up having Shabbos company. I will preemptively say that I agree; the community has decided that to be on scholarship, you don't have to be living like a pauper. But meanwhile, tuition scholarships are diverting charity from real need. It seems the truly poor always get the shaft.

JS said...


Yes, the amount of food consumed over Shabbos and Yom Tov is truly staggering if not a bit nausea-inducing. Especially on short winter Shabboses, I find it more than a bit gross to watch people stuff their faces at a huge kiddush, walk a block or 2 home, have a huge lunch, walk that block or 2 back to shul and then have a big shalashudis. But, hey, that's oneg Shabbos for you. Aside from the inevitable health issues, to each his own, but it's disheartening given how many of our own neighbors often don't have enough to eat, let alone multi-course meals.

Let the indignant comments come. I don't pretend to have any answers. The current system has made some very clear choices. Attending yeshiva is the single most important mitzvah a family with children can perform. As such, it's the community's responsibility to pay for that family's children if the family is unable to pay or unwilling to sacrifice enough to be able to pay (or to pay a greater share). I think this is wrong-headed, but the community has made its choice.

Like you said, it's the truly indigent and those who have other genuine needs that suffer as the middle-class MO family (for example) gets to send to yeshiva, take a vacation, lease a car, have cable TV, etc.

Trudy said...

I disagree with you Tesyaa. The truly poor aren't getting the shaft. Those that are truly poor and not by design do have access to many organizations in Klal and secularly, Tomche Shabbos for one of them. There are other organizations that provide clothing for these people. Medical care is taken care of by the government. If they have kids in yeshiva, the yeshiva foots the bill, most or all of it. These truly poor aren't rolling in other luxuries. These poor aren't leasing expensive cars or any cars.

But we are also feeding those who are poor by design. Maybe they don't work or the husband doesn't work and sits and learns. Maybe they choose to spend money on items we could put in the luxury class while assuming the community will pick up the tab for the Jewish requirements. Explain to me how someone who gets care packages to feed themselves and their family also wears a human hair sheitle, or any sheitle for that matter instead of a plain and cheap hat. Explain to me expensive lulavim and etrogim. Explain to me cars, whether owned or leased, with the insurance costs as well. Explain to me clothes with designer labels. Explain to me sending kids to Israel for a year or more. It's these people who are stretching the resources of our communities beyond what they can bear.

If we didn't have these people to feed and care for we could spend more on those truly in need.

JS said...


It all goes under what I said before about redefining luxuries as religious necessities:

Private school - Yeshiva, Shinantem l'vanecha
Exquisite multi-course meals - kavod Shabbos/Yom Tov
Human hair sheitel - Hidur mitzvah of covering one's hair
Expensive lulav/etrog - Hidur mitzvah of arba minim
Designer clothes - kavod Shabbos/Yom Tov
Silver lichter - hiddur mitzvah of hadlakat neirot
Year or two in Israel - Limud Torah

Then you have stuff like Car + Insurance, cleaning help, and pesach hotels which all fall under some form of not wasting time (bitul Torah), necessary for living a frum lifestyle, necessary because so many children, not fitting for a Jew not to have this, etc.

There's a religious justification for any luxury.

tesyaa said...


If you read the comments on another blog, many people say that they have cut their contributions to Tomchei Shabbos because they are tapped out by tuition. I don't know if they are all telling the truth, but it sounds plausible, from personal experience.

You think the truly poor are OK because someone else is taking care of their needs? When you go to a doctor, ask out of curiosity if he or she takes Medicaid, especially a specialist. I don't think the poor are OK because the government pays for health care and Tomchei Shabbos sends them a chicken and two challahs once a week.

Aren't many charitable organizations struggling, as well as social services who rely on government funds which are being cut?

I agree with you about people who are poor by design. I try very hard to avoid giving to people who are poor by design.

Mr. Cohen said...

Babylonian Talmud, tractate Baba Batra, page 110A:

Hire yourself out to do work that would otherwise be repulsive to you, instead of depending on other people.


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