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Rising Hunger Resulting from Rapidly Rising Cost of Gasoline in California

December 5, 2022

The skyrocketing cost of gasoline is forcing the cost of food in California even higher, and millions of Californians are still struggling to put food on their tables. Car owners are not the only ones impacted by the rising cost of gasoline. In particular, gas and diesel prices are the largest driver of the dramatic food price inflation we have seen over the last year, which has resulted in a 13.5% increase in the cost of groceries in the last year alone:

The past year’s natural-gas price rise is having “an inordinate impact on the cost of food production,” says Sal Gilbertie, president and chief investment officer at Teucrium Trading. The biggest cost input is generally fertilizer, he says. “This is where farmers are feeling the pinch.” “Consumers should expect food costs to remain elevated for quite some time, at least until energy prices subside substantially,” he says. (Diesel and Natural-Gas Prices Stay High, Feeding Food Price Inflation, Market Watch)

“The price of gas has swung so wildly that it’s been an important driver of changes in the overall CPI, despite making up just 3% of its ‘basket’ of goods that government statisticians use to calculate inflation. In fact, the increase in gas prices accounts for at least half of the monthly increases in the CPI’s all-items index of goods and services over the last four months, the BLS said.” (Gas Prices Have Outsized Impact on Inflation, The Balance Money)

Simply put, oil and gas corporations are contributing to the high cost of food. While economically vulnerable Californians are still struggling to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this crisis is only deepening the state of hunger. The unfortunate reality is that hunger remains at shocking, unacceptable levels, especially for low-income Black, Latinx, and Asian-American families. The latest data shows that 8 million Californians – or 20% of our population – are experiencing food insecurity. Demand at food banks is still sustained at near-record levels; a survey of food banks has revealed that most food banks are serving 1.5 the number of people they were serving pre-pandemic. Some are serving double, or even triple the number of people compared to 2019.

“Not since the Great Depression a 100 years ago had America seen food lines like that. At exactly the same time as the financial impacts of COVID started to subside for many of us, inflation came to a 40 year high. To kind of aggravate the matter further, the cost of food has crept higher than the inflationary cost of other consumer goods.” – Mark Lowery, Director of the Orange County Food Bank (Orange County’s Food Demand Remains High Two Years Into Pandemic, Voice of OC, 11/23/2022)

Bakersfield is the largest city in Kern County, which boasts the nation’s biggest farm economy. Yet the fertile agricultural region suffers some of the state’s highest rates of hunger and food insecurity. “It’s a sad irony,” says Kelly Lowery, program administrator at Community Action Partnership of Kern. He said demand at the food bank has exploded this year, from about 35,000 people seeking food items in January to 70,000 by October. “To see it spike in just a matter of months, that’s a little surprising, Lowery added” Lowery points to inflation for the economic pain many families are feeling. Pantries are serving more employed people than before. “They didn’t lose their jobs. They didn’t get a reduction in pay. It’s just everything costs more now,” he said. (High Costs, Demand Keep Valley Food Pantries Busy, NPR For Central California, 11/23/2022)

Krystine Dinh from the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano says they serve 275,000 people every month, which is an increase of 100,000 people per month since last year. She says that includes a 50% increase in seniors and 25% increase in children who are in need of food. “What continues to shock me is that 25%, one-fourth of the people that we serve, are children. And that, to me, is unacceptable,” says Dinh. Part of the increasing need is due to families struggling through the pandemic. That was followed by rising costs due to inflation. Dinh says there’s been a 30% increase in the cost of food. Turkeys alone are up 40% – a popular item during the holiday season, which is the busiest time of the year for the food bank. (Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano Sees Increase of 100K People Per Month Needing Food, ABC 7 News, 11/11/2022)

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