Sunday, August 10, 2014

All the Starving Children in India

When I was a kid, I was told to finish my meals because children were starving in India.  Today we import food from there, as well as other third-world countries.

I wrote before about the Dollar Tree and some of the bargains there.  Walmart also has some pretty inexpensive food these days as well.  And Trader Joe's, the darling of the hip set, has rock-bottom prices on a lot of upscale foods.  What do they all have in common?

Well, they import food from what where once (or still are) very impoverished countries - India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, and the like.   When I was a kid, the idea that we would import food was alien enough.  The idea that we would import food from countries that were back then receiving care packages from the Red Cross, well, that was unimaginable.

That we import food is no surprise, of course.  We have always imported products that are not made in America - French wines and cheeses, Swiss chocolates, German beers and bratwursts, Polish kielbasa and other specialty foods.   But lately, we are importing more and more prepared foods from overseas, and often from countries that were once struggling to feed themselves.  It is very odd.

I recounted in another posting that a few years back, Mark picked up a package of frozen cocoanut butterflied shrimp, which was unusual, as we don't usually buy a lot of "prepared" foods like that.  What was really unusual, though was that this $5 package of shrimp was stamped, "Made in Vietnam".

Bizarre.

They grow the shrimp in ponds there, and then process them, cook them, freeze them, and then package them.  Then they are put in refrigerated containers, each with a chugging freezer package running on diesel fuel, and then send them off by freighter, halfway around the globe.   Here in the States, they are unloaded, sent to warehouses, trucked to stores, and then carried home in a plastic bag.   Quite a journey for ten shrimp to make.

Talk about not buying local.

What is really bizarre is that right next door to us is Seapak, which processes, cooks and packages wild Georgia shrimp (which taste better and are larger than pond-grown Asian shrimp).

Yet is is cheaper to ship shrimp from Vietnam than from a place less than five miles from my house.

In some respects, I guess this is progress.  Formerly destitute and struggling countries are now prosperous enough to export food.  And food is like any other product, if you think about it.  So why not export it, particularly to a country that has low import duties.

We still are net food exporters, I believe, as we send out so much bulk grain cargo (some of which also leaves in huge ships, not five miles from my house, docked right next door to the Seapak plant, no less!).  

Where the cost savings is, is in the labor and cost of doing business.  It is cheaper to run a canning or processing plant overseas, and the cost of sending a container across the planet is, apparently, not much more than sending it a dozen miles or so.

I am not sure what this has to do with my blog or anything.  Just a thought that struck me.   There are, of course, still children starving in India (according to some sources) but not apparently due to a lack of food itself, but to more esoteric economic reasons.

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