I began to follow the [food] commodities market more closely. After only a few weeks of scrutinizing the ups and downs of the market, I was amazed by the fragility of the same commodities that sit so sturdily on the supermarket shelf. Take coffee, for example. Within the space of a few weeks, the price of coffee was buffeted by tropical storms and early frosts that threatened to crimp crop output. Then came an onslaught of a disease that threatened crops across much of Latin America, where the majority of coffee beans grow. The commodity price soared as a shortage was predicted. Finally, a wily spectator who had "cornered the market" unloaded mass quantities of coffee, driving prices back down. There was no run on jars of Folgers at the grocery. The price of my daily latte didn't fluctuate by even a penny.
This is an excerpt from a striking little book by Kara Newman called The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets.
This little blurb about coffee futures makes you realize how insulated from reality we consumers are. We're completely protected from all the drama and price fluctuations of a commodity we completely take for granted. All we have to do is just head to the store or Starbucks... and there's our coffee, sitting there waiting for us. And the price is the same as always.
There is an entire industry out there putting this product on our shelves for us, and we consumers don't have to trouble our pretty little heads with any of these supply/demand worries. Heck, we don't even know about them--after all, how would we see something that we don't see? Kind of incredible if you think about it.
One takeaway that sticks in my mind is how incredibly lucky we are as consumers. It can be deceivingly easy to complain and wring our hands about the "greedy" food industry. But thinking through the example above gives me, if anything, a feeling of gratitude.
Readers, what do you think?
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