Inflation strikes hard at Bay Area dinner tables

Families already struggling to meet the high living costs of the Bay Area must pay 60 percent more to put food on their tables than they paid five years ago, new figures show.

Food that meets the basic dietary needs of four-person families with two young children in San Francisco or San Mateo last year cost $911 a month — up from $565 in 2002, according to Susie Smith, a director at the Oakland-based nonprofit Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

The overall cost of living in San Francisco rose over the same period from $5,023 to $5,182 and it rose from $4,948 to $6,048 in San Mateo, according to Smith. A detailed report is due to be released in early May, she said.

Rising food prices are a global phenomenon: Wheat prices around the world rose 83 percent in 2007, according to a February report by the United NationsFood and Agriculture Organization, which lists 36 countries in “food emergencies.”

In the Bay Area, the average person earning $70,000 a year spends $8,100 on food, according to Bay Area Council spokesman John Grubb. For comparison, he said the same person would spend $5,600 in Seattle and $5,400 in Charlotte.

In 2002, the Insight Center estimated that 112,000 households in San Mateo and The City could not afford to meet the “basic needs” of living, which include housing, health care, child care, transportation and food.

California Grocers Association spokesman Dave Heylen blamed a “perfect storm” of global factors for rising food prices: the rising costs of fuel used to grow, heat, chill and distribute food and manufacture synthetic fertilizer; a growing hunger for better food and grain-consuming farm animals in countries such as China and India; the increasing use of corn as ethanol biofuel instead of food; and the weakening dollar, which encourages growers to sell products in regions such as Europe instead of California.

jupton@examiner.com

Examiner Staff Writer Will Reisman contributed to this report.

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