March 1, 2008

Bread and Fuel

On NPR Weekend Edition this morning, a commentator told of his old school-teacher's maxim that a slice of pizza should cost the same as a subway token, and that until recently this has tracked rather well. Due to recent increases in the cost of flour, however, pizzerias (or is it pizzerie?) will now be forced to raise their per-slice cost to $3, while the Metrocard will still let you get away with a $2 subway ride.

This reminded me of a childhood awareness that a loaf of bread generally cost as much as a gallon of gas. I'm talking kinder and gentler times in the 50s when both cost about 29 cents. They have tracked rather well for the last half-century (at least for the premium blends like Pepperidge Farms, Arnold, and so on).

The interesting thing I learned from the news story this morning is that the reason for the recent increase in the cost of wheat flour is due to the decrease in acreage devoted to wheat, diverted now to corn being grown for -- perhaps you've guessed it -- ethanol!

So it seems in a spooky Borgian kind of "we are all connected" way that the cost of fuel and bread is somehow linked in an entangled state, and my childhood intuition reflected some deeper reality.

Oh... and "resistance is futile."

Tobias Haller BSG


Country Parson said...

My wheat farmers are happy. Wheat selling at $6 to $10 and higher has lifted them out of a long, long recession. Not all the increase is due to corn destined to become ethanol. Exploding populations demanding better nutrition in the face of poor agricultural practices elsewhere has lifted demand for North American wheat. On the other hand, I keep coming across articles asserting that corn based ethanol is extremely inefficient and unsustainable in the long run. So we may see almost as much volatility in the commodity markets as we see in the stock market before long. All of this may make no sense to city folks, but it's the life blood of my rural valley.

bls said...

I've often thought about the bread-and-fuel parallel, too; I remember those big green stickers on the ends of the loaves with the big black "29¢" label!

susan s. said...

Yeah, bls, that 29 cent balloon bread was around way past the 20s. Decent bread was really hard to find then. I think I was grown and living in California before I saw any whole grain bread.

I don't remember a gallon of gas ever costing less that 39 cents. But I haven't ever paid 3.49 for a loaf of bread. Yes, that's what regular gas costs in the SF Bay Area.

David Austin Allen said...

I'm not sure of your age Padre Tobias, (forgive me, I always want to call you Friar Toby and am not sure how well you would take that), but I remember in Fall/Winter 1972/73 when I was 8 years old and my Papá took me with him to the USA for the first time. It was the era of the world oil embargo and gasoline was only about US 25¢ a gallon, but almost overnight increased to US $1. It had to have been much lower in the 1950s!

Tobias Haller said...

Thsnks Country Parson for providing yet another "link" in this web of complex relationships. And you're right about corn based ethanol not only being a boondoggle, but actually causing more energy waste. It's switchgrass we want!

bls and susan s., yes I can see those stickers vividly! As to gas and bread, the "premium" grade breads in NY are tracking the gas prices pretty closely. A loaf of Arnold 100% Whole Wheat is $3.39 (I just double checked the label) and gas is going for a little over that right now.

DAA, it may be a regional thing. I grew up in Baltimore, and as a child recall gas going from "25 and nine" to "29 and nine" and bread rising from 26¢ to 29¢ I"m sure it was probably much cheaper in the Southwest. I'm sure gas was higher than that by the 60s in Baltimore. By way of admission, I never learned to drive a car, so my knowledge of this in the early 70s is most severely limited, as I was in NYC by the time and using only public transport!

Kirstin said...

Resistance is fertile, my friend.

Can't remember where I learned that, but I try not to forget it.

Paul Davison said...

I remember having to fill up my parents' car in the summer between high school and college (1973) and paying the "outrageous" amount of 39 cents per gallon!

But, before we get too rhapsodic about those prices, I recently ran accross my first pay statements from after law school in 1980 and I remember thinking back then, in my foolishness, I could never spend that much money! Looking back from 2008, my thought is how did I survive on that? Although they haven't gone up as much, inflation has pushed up wages AND prices.

By the way, my rector says that inflation hasn't affected the pledges of some our people as they still pledge the same amount as they did 8 or 9 years ago! A shame we can't do that with our budget...

FranIAm said...

Borgian indeed! I am old enough to remember when one parted with far less than one dollar for either thing.

Deep sigh. And sadly in my new suburban lair, a "slice" of pizza is what one procures at the Sbarro at the local mall. I think you may have inspired me to write a post about the NYC pizza of my youth.

How I digress! It was great to meet you on Friday. Evidence of said meeting is here.

I hope you do not mind me linking through the comments. Feel free to alter as needed.

blogRat said...

Sir, I must profoundly apologize for leaving your thread, but in accordance with the law of England a rat may not own a blog of his own. Therefore I must deign to place my posts into the blogs of other Charming and Talented individuals.

This will only happen once, I assure you.

Oh, and you misspelled 'contradiction'. There are two T's, good sir.


So still no word from the University of Warthon. Those self-righteous cretins are perhaps overwhelmed by my previous work with Lady Chatterly and her much-angered husband. Ah, what can I say? Brilliance is rarely appreciated among men (or rats).

Yesterday I watched the sun skulk its way over the horizon, and it inspired in my heart a brazen poem that came out as this:

Apes are red
Apes are blue
When using Photoshop
To alter the hue.

It's getting colder as I write. Why colder? Isn't summer coming up? Has the atmosphere been affected by an evil wizard? That is the only explanation I may proffer.

- blogRat

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you, blogRat. In a Franciscan spirit, all of Blog's creatures are welcome as long as they are not disruptive. As you have also provided a valuable service in pointing out my spelling error, you are more than welcome, even if off topic!