Food prices influence the quality of life for everyone, the world over. They can be determined by a huge variety of factors and can change on an hour-to-hour, minute-by-minute basis in response to major world events, market shifts, and even weather forecasts. Over the past several years, food prices have been a major point of concern for many Americans, particularly during the recession, as families were forced to tighten their belts more than ever before.
There is plenty of concern over the future of food prices in America right now, and for good reason. Even big business is growing wary. Most of the western United States is experiencing a drought of epic proportions, which is most certainly going to have an effect on food prices nationwide. Droughts, along with the changes they force on supply lines, increased transportation costs, and destruction of livestock and farmland, all play a pivotal part in determining food prices.
There are also aspects to the economic health of certain states, including levels of food insecurity and dependence on food stamps that can shed some light into the true cost of food across the country. Taxpayer funding goes directly to millions of underserved and hungry citizens every year in areas where poverty is prevalent, essentially making those areas more costly than others. Many of the same areas suffer from high levels of food insecurity, which has to do with availability of food in a given area.
Some areas suffer from high levels of food insecurity for different reasons, like remoteness or the fact that it may be difficult to make deliveries to grocery stores. This comes with increased transportation costs, which require, many times, subsidization on some level. Food insecurity levels have been found to be closely linked to food prices, as one might expect from a scarcity perspective.
We’re taking a look at the eight states that have the highest food costs. This doesn’t necessarily mean the highest prices per se, as prices can fluctuate wildly in an immediate neighborhood, let alone across several time zones. It’s quite obvious that a box of Oreos would cost more in Nome, Alaska, than Fort Collins, Colorado. In order to gauge the rankings, we took a look at several different things. Among them was levels of food insecurity from Feeding America, which also provided an average cost per meal calculation. The usage of SNAP benefits, or food stamps, was also taken into account. Food prices and taxes were the final big contributor, and general proximity to major agricultural centers, as well.
Here are the top eight states in the United States with the highest food costs, as calculated from the above criteria.
8. New Jersey
New Jersey might come as a bit of a surprise, but factors like limited farmland and population centers that are rife with poverty add up. Cities like Camden, which borders Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia, are some of the poorest areas in the entire country. As a result, food stamp use and food insecurity is high in these places. According to USDA statistics, New Jersey also has some of the highest taxation and highest prices for milk, a staple of most American diets and one of the most important items that grocery stores sell. Although New Jersey is situated in the middle of a highly populated region of the country, there are several things making food costly for its residents.
The small northeastern state of Vermont, although not typically associated with high levels of poverty and food insecurity, earns a spot in the top eight because of its size and relatively remote location. Situated in New England, far from the fertile agricultural lands of the West and Midwest, getting food to Vermont requires a long list of logistical feats. Between 15-20% of the state’s citizens used SNAP benefits in 2012, and like New Jersey, high prices and taxes add up to take their toll on overall food costs.
Much like Vermont, Maine has high food costs that are associated with its geographic location. Maine is in a relative no man’s land in northern New England, far from the agricultural capital of the heartland, and is not home to any major seaports, and it has limited capabilities. Again, taxation and prices are high, according to the USDA, and food insecurity levels, along with food stamp use, is above average. Feeding America calculates that the average cost of a meal in Maine clocks in at $3.09, which is considerably higher than most other states.
Floridians have the misfortune of having disproportionately high food costs compared to most of the country. Like Maine, Florida is geographically located very far from the center of the country, where most agricultural production takes place. Florida’s land is also not suitable for farming (of many things) on a large scale, as swamps and wetlands dominate large portions of the state. Food insecurity levels are quite high in certain parts of the state, and SNAP benefit usage has skyrocketed over the past several years, more than doubling between 2008 and 2012.
The centrally located state of Tennessee is a bit of a surprise to see with such high food costs, but alas, it found its way somehow. Major issues plaguing Tennessee are high levels of food insecurity and very high levels of poverty that have bumped SNAP benefit usage to levels between 20-25%, as of 2012. When a quarter of the state is on public assistance, there are some issues to be addressed. Prices and taxes tend to be on the high side, but most of the state’s issues with food costs come down to economic factors. It may be centrally located near many agricultural production zones, but Tennessee is still dealing with significant costs when it comes to food.
Mississippi suffers from the same fate as Tennessee. High levels of poverty have take a real toll on the state’s residents and have also led to high levels of food stamp use. Mississippi has some of the worst levels of food insecurity in the entire country, with fresh food difficult to come by in many communities. The state is notorious for being one of the unhealthiest in the United States, and by looking at the availability of food, coupled with the crippling poverty many are dealing with, it’s easy to see why. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill also didn’t do the state any favors, taking a toll on seafood harvests, and by proxy, the incomes of those that make their living on the Gulf, as well.
Far and away is the great state of Alaska, which, unsurprisingly, has very high food costs. Simply put, Alaska is incredibly remote from most major agricultural centers, and its mountainous northern terrain is not suitable for farming. The sheer costs of transportation to get food from the U.S. mainland, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, are quite high. Also, given its sparse population, the demand isn’t exactly booming, creating little incentive for businesses to find cheaper ways to get their products to the state. As a result, food insecurity is quite high in Alaska, and the lack of available farm land doesn’t help, either.
The state with the highest food costs is Hawaii, and it’s not difficult to discern why. Hawaii is a small state with little land mass available for agricultural production. It’s also a very long distance away from the rest of the country, making transportation a huge issue for importing food. Hawaiians do produce many of their own foodstuffs, from tropical fruits and vegetables to seafood, but getting boxes of cereal to Honolulu from Iowa invokes a serious logistical quandary. Hawaii’s food costs are mainly attributed to its remote location, as natural foods can be much easier to find in its tropical location than in a place like Alaska.
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