Here are three gerunds we rarely use to describe the current status of food production:

  • Shelling out major coin for Valentine’s Day. 
  • Bickering over hunger relief.
  • Griping over shrinkage in farm statistics.

Uncheap Date

Like most things these days, celebrating Valentine’s Day has gotten more expensive. The National Retail Federation projected Americans will spend upward of $14 billion on the holiday this year (up $800 million from 2023), with those aged 35-44 spending $137 per person. A large chunk, we estimate, is on food and candy.

  • There was no shortage of foodservice specials luring couples to spend some of that $274 ($137 x 2), but P.F. Chang’s took the prize for catering to the newly single with free dumplings (Instagram).  
  • Food retailers increasingly vied for a piece of the action. Kroger promoted using DoorDash and Uber Eats to deliver goodies like floral bouquets, balloons, sushi and poke bowls (Specialty Food Association).
  • CNN described a Japanese bakery that partnered with electronics firm NEC to translate the stages of love into a fluffy steamed bread. Indeed, you can sample the flavors of a first encounter, first date, jealousy, heartbreak or mutual love, thanks to AI and keen baking skills. 
  • NPR offered ideas for healthy alternatives to Valentine’s Day candy. It’s actually not that bad; think fresh fruit and cheese boards, not kale and chia seeds. 
  • The real sour on the sweet day was news of surging cocoa prices. Food Dive summarized a CoBank report that pegged prices at nearly 65% above a year ago, with futures hitting a 46-year high.
  • On X, formerly Twitter, the influential voices we follow churned out an impressive array of content. Click for amusement and information: Teamsters (Don’t mess!), America’s Test Kitchen (a pragmatic lard-fried chicken recipe), Tasty (3+ minutes of impossible chocolate hacks), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) (tweet of the week), Idaho Potatoes (it’s spud-tastic!), USDA Ag Research Service (pumping up the jam for strawberries) and EPA (rockin’ the candy hearts).

Our Takeaway: Love is getting priced out of St. Valentine’s Day.

No Stamp of Approval

Food assistance once again emerged as a sticking point in Congressional budget negotiations. Rising food prices have ballooned both the need for and the costs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

  • Industry groups and special interest groups alike support robust nutrition policies. Baking Business rounded up opinions from the American Bakers Association and Consumer Brands Association on SNAP.
  • In posts on X, International Fresh Produce Association touted how it passed on a Super Bowl ad to support WIC, and Food Research & Action Center urged followers to join a petition for Congress to fully fund WIC.
  • The end of pandemic emergency benefits in 2023 demonstrated how important food stamps are to companies’ bottom lines. TD Cowen analyst Robert Moskow told Supermarket Perimeter that the cuts amounted to “a 3% reduction in overall food spending.”
  • Twenty democrats on the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce wrote that, under current proposals for the WIC program, “as many as two million young children and pregnant and postpartum adults could lose access” to food assistance. The group emphasized the economic impact as well: “The program saves $2.48 in health care costs on average for every dollar of funding.
  • Rep. Brad Finstad (R-Minn.) countered: “Folks from my side of the aisle aren’t coming to us and saying we need to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. They’re saying let’s preserve, protect and make sure that we’re getting this to where it needs to go.” (Agri-Pulse)
  • But Finstad and friends may have their work cut out for them. Reuters reported on February 8 that the USDA has issued letters to 47 governors for failing to distribute SNAP benefits in a timely or accurate manner.

Our Takeaway: Rising food prices have heightened the political rhetoric around food assistance budgets, but large cuts are unlikely. These programs help citizens and businesses in urban, suburban and rural areas across the country, regardless of political party.

“The latest census numbers put in black and white the warnings our members have been expressing for years. Increased regulations, rising supply costs, lack of available labor and weather disasters have all squeezed farmers to the point that many of them find it impossible to remain economically sustainable.”

— Zippy Duvall, President, American Farm Bureau Federation

Fewer Farms, Older Farmers

On February 13, the USDA released data from the 2022 Census of Agriculture. The first post-pandemic census turned heads with several sobering statistics. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described the report as “a wake-up call to everyone who plays a role in agriculture policy or who shares an interest in preserving a thriving rural America.”

  • Census of Agriculture reveals rich data | American Farm Bureau Federation
  • U.S. lost 142,000 farms according to ag census | Feedstuffs
  • USDA says Minnesota farms are growing in size, but shrinking in number | Star Tribune
  • Census: Nine California counties lead U.S. ag sales | Agri-Pulse
  • Iowa losing mid-size farms as smallest, largest ones increase, new U.S. ag census shows | Des Moines Register
  • Census shows decline of women’s representation in ag | Ag Daily
  • Solar use on US farms jumps 30% in five years | Bloomberg

Worth Reading

Rolls on a Roll

How does a family bakery transform into a $2 billion retail giant? Ask King’s Hawaiian. Forbes shared how quality ingredients, product innovation and a touch of culture have spearheaded the beloved sweet bread company’s growth since 1963. While acquisitions have allowed the family-owned business to diversify its product offerings under the holding company Irresistible Food Group, its sweet rolls will always be (quite literally) its bread and butter.

Unfair Fare?

The Wall Street Journal detailed how comedian Kylie Brakeman kickstarted a crowdsourced assessment of airport prices for her favorite travel snack: traditional flavor Chex Mix. With the help of her X followers, Brakeman has compared pre-tax pricing across 40 airports, with high-end costs exceeding $13. Her research sheds light on factors influencing airport food prices, including inflation, local convenience store pricing and the discretion of airport retailers. Extra space in a carry-on has never felt so valuable.

Cultivated Meat’s Uphill Battle

A New York Times opinion piece unpacked the complicated future of lab-grown meat: “Investors will no doubt be eager to find out what went wrong. For the rest of us, a more pressing question is why anyone ever thought it could go right. Why did so many people buy into the dream that cultivated meat would save us?”

Lights, Camera, Food!

Eater’s editorial virtuosos released a list of the 38 greatest food movies in history. Why? Because food is a tenured pillar of cinematic appeal. Whether it serves as the focal point of a plot or a complementary component that intensifies the viewing experience, food has had a far-reaching impact on countless films we know and love. And that culinary influence is something worth celebrating.

Artificially Illustrated
Shrinking with age: the diminishing state of the American farm and farmer population.
Credit: Midjourney image by Ryan Smith