Dec 15, 2022 - Podcasts

Why vegetables are getting pricier this winter

Maybe you've noticed the big jump in the price of vegetables lately — 38% in November compared to October, according to new government data. Arizona farmers provide most of our leafy greens from November to March. But this winter, production could get worse because of drought in the Colorado River.

  • Plus, what that means for child hunger in the U.S.
  • And, we're making you smarter about Sunday's World Cup final.

Guests: Axios' Jeff Tracy, University of Arizona's Paul Brierley and Share Our Strength's Lisa Davis.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, December 15th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: we’re making you smarter about Sunday’s World Cup final. But first, why vegetables are getting pricier this winter – and what that means for child hunger in the U.S. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Food costs have been going up across the board – but you might have noticed a big jump in the price of vegetables lately: 38% in November compared to October, according to new government data. That’s an almost 80% increase from last year.

And now…things could be getting even worse for veggie production and prices, as a severe drought in the Colorado River continues to worsen. Farmers in Southwest Arizona grow around 90% of North America’s leafy greens – like lettuce, Kale, and more – from through the winter months. But their critical source of water is the Colorado River, which is fast drying up.

The University of Arizona’s Paul Brierley is keeping tabs on all this – hi Paul.

PAUL BRIERLEY: Hello. How are you?

NIALA: Practically speaking, what does less water mean when it comes to food production?

PAUL: Less water is gonna be less food. Yuma, Arizona, by the way, gets three inches of rain a year. So, it's basically completely dependent on diverted river water to grow anything. And so less water has a very direct consequence of less food being produced.

NIALA: How much are farmers concerned about what happened with the Colorado River? Not just this summer, but in the past few years?

PAUL: Very concerned. My job at the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture is to understand their pressing problems and find solutions to them. And it's been a myriad of things between water and crop disease and soil health and, you know, technology, all these different things. But this year, water rose to the very highest level of this is the biggest concern and without water, you know, you hope there's enough water that they can continue to produce the nation's food supply cause especially something like this. Often people think, oh, you can just grow up somewhere else but that's not the case with these leafy green products. Yuma is a place where you can grow year round and this is really the only place in the country where you can grow them. So, you know, it's just like a factory that doesn't have electricity.

NIALA: Paul, how do you think as a country we should be thinking about our food production given the current reality of what we've just talked about? Not just storms and crop disease, but the reality of weather and climate and water.

PAUL: I think it's always been too easy for the public to go to the store and get whatever food they want and they just take it for granted. And it's actually a difficult process to fill those store shelves and I think we keep whittling away at the ability to do that because we don't, as a public, have the appreciation for what it takes. And so if, if we just think, well, let's just cut back. We don't need to be farming. We just need that for, you know, for the cities and the industries. There comes a point where we no longer have a cheap and plentiful food supply that we depend on. And really after air and water, food is our most essential ingredient. And, we don't want to be dependent on others. So it's, it's our food security, it's our national security and it's our economic security.

NIALA: Paul Brierley is the executive director of the University of Arizona's Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture. Thanks, Paul.

PAUL: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Child hunger in the US

NIALA: As climate and drought contributes to rising food costs...hunger is a growing concern across much of the U.S. – including for children.

LISA DAVIS: Children are at greater risk of hunger right now in America than at any point in the last few years.

That's Lisa Davis from the non profit Share Our Strength, which says one in eight children in this country struggles with food insecurity right now.

LISA: When the pandemic first hit the federal government took unprecedented action to put into place policies that would help make sure that families had the resources to feed their kids, that schools and community organizations were able to step up in real time. All of those policies are starting to end or have ended. And yet families are facing the highest inflation that our nation has seen in decades. And so there's a lot of hardship out there.

NIALA: How much does the cost of food itself factor in, here?

LISA: The cost of food is a huge variable. One thing that we know about families that are struggling is that their budgets have no flexibility. One of my colleagues in New York, who was talking to a mom who's a nurse. She is working overtime because so many of her colleagues have been sick with the flu, with Covid. Her income went up to a point where her kids stopped qualifying for free school meals and she was in tears because now she would have to pick up the cost of those meals. And when costs across the board start to increase, the easiest thing for families to cut back on is food. If you don't pay the rent, you won't have a place to live. If you don't buy gas for your car, you won't make it to work and you won't have a job. And so food is the area that families cut back on the most.

NIALA: What does it take to end childhood hunger?

LISA: Many of the policies that were put in place during the pandemic, getting resources into the hands of parents through the expanded child tax credit, which gave parents money to help meet essential needs. And we know that, in talking to families that received this benefit, the majority of those funds go to buying food. All of these policies worked during the pandemic to bring child hunger down to the lowest level that we've seen since we've begun tracking it. When kids go hungry, it affects their physical development, their mental development, how well they do in school, whether they graduate and even their lifetime earnings. It's a crisis that will have long-term implications for our society. We just need Congress to step up and take action.

NIALA: Lisa Davis is the Senior Vice President of Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign. Thanks, Lisa.

LISA: Thank you so much.

NIALA: In a moment: what to watch in Sunday’s World Cup final.


We’re making you smarter about Sunday’s World Cup final

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

After yesterday's exciting semi-final match, a powerhouse world cup final in Qatar is set with returning champion France facing off against Argentina. Jeff Tracy is here to catch you up on everything you need to know before Sunday's game. Hey Jeff.

JEFF TRACY: Hey, Niala.

NIALA: So let's talk about yesterday's match with France and underdogs Morocco. Had Morocco won, they would've been the first African nation to reach the World Cup finals. As it was They were the first to get to the semis. How much of a standout was this team in this tournament?

JEFF: Oh, I mean, they were incredible. That game yesterday was actually the first game the entire tournament that they allowed a goal to the opposition. They'd only had one goal scored on them the entire tournament before then, and it was an own goal against Canada. So, it took France, this offensive powerhouse, the defending champions, to finally actually score on them. Sort of all of Africa got behind them. So, absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, it would've been great to continue the epic run, but I guess it had to end somewhere, and France is not a crazy place for it to end.

NIALA: So let's turn to Sunday because everyone is gonna be talking about Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi. They're actually teammates at the French League Club, Paris St. Germain, but they're competing against each other for the World Cup. Can you tell us about these players and how much more difficult it is when you're playing against your teammates?

JEFF: Yes, so you have Messi and Mbappe going against each other. Messi, the 35-year-old, perhaps single greatest player to ever play the game, looking for his first World Cup. And Mbappe who burst on the scene at age 19, four years ago when he helped lead France to their championship in Russia. The intrigue is through the roof as you say, teammates at PSG, they are currently tied with five goals each for the Golden Boot lead, you know, both sort of attackers. They're not necessarily going to be going against each other on the same, you know, offense, defense type part of the field. But electric, chock full of storylines and on the field it should be pretty good too.

NIALA: Jeff, as we talked about before, there's been a lot of commentary about Qatar and if it was the right choice as a host country. How do you think we'll look back at their hosting of these games?

JEFF: Obviously there's no getting past the fact that there were tragedies that spanned both immigrant workers dying, while building these stadiums, not only the hundreds, if not thousands, that died in the decade leading up to the World Cup. But, journalist Grant Wahl tragically died while covering a game last week. There are gonna be good and bad memories from this World Cup. And certainly Qatar being this host that, if not even allegedly, bribed their way into getting that bid, we could have predicted that it wouldn't be perfect. So at least the soccer has lived up.

NIALA: Yes, and we do wanna send our deepest sympathies, especially to Grant Wahl's family. Dr. Celine Gounder has been a guest many times on the podcast, and we just want her to know we're thinking of her. Thanks Jeff.

Jeff: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Join Tyler Foggatt and her colleagues as they go beyond the headlines and deepen your understanding of the forces shaping our world today on “The Political Scene,” a podcast from The New Yorker. With episodes three times a week, “The Political Scene” accesses the sharpest minds in politics for insight and analysis about everything, from abortion rights to the war in Ukraine. Make sure you’re following “The Political Scene," available now wherever you get your podcasts.

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