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The Bread Revolution: Food Prices Play a Key Role in Egyptian Uprising

The Bread Revolution: Food Prices Play a Key Role in Egyptian Uprising

Time’s Ecocentric blog has an interesting story about the link between rising food prices and the unfolding revolution in Egypt.

In the last few days, soaring food prices have been cited as one of the proverbial straws that led Egyptians to take to the streets in frustration over Murbarak’s 30-year rule….Global wheat prices are at an all-time high, and other grains and meat prices were up over 20% by the end of 2010. Though some 40% of Egypt’s 80 million residents live in poverty, high food prices don’t have the same impact in Egypt that they might have in other vulnerable countries. The nation has a huge subsidy program that, when its working right, helps protect its poorest citizens from inflated food prices.

The most telling data point from the article is that bread is central to Egyptian culture and diet and they are in the unenviable position of relying heavily on imports.

In Egypt, the Arabic word for bread — “aish” — is also the world for life. Egyptians are the world’s largest consumers of bread and Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer.

To make matters more tenuous, Egyptians spend a very high percentage of their incomes on food. By comparison, Americans spend around 10% of disposable income on food.

“Flour is Flour.”

“Flour is Flour.”

We stopped by the old Centennial Mills ADM flour mill today on Trent Rd. It’s one of many old mills in the Valley that we pass by everyday without giving a second glance. We did a little investigating and were able to get the scoop on Indland Northwest flour. It turns out almost all the flour in the Spokane area is processed at this one mill. It has storage capacity for 4 million bushels of wheat. Its largest customer is Snyder’s bakery in Spokane Valley. They package the flour for retail use as Western Family, Fred Meyer, Albertsons, Stone Buhr, and on and on.

 

We told them we had heard that they added a lot of preservatives to keep the flour from going bad. They explained that they don’t add any preservatives, but they do add some nutritional supplements to make up for what is lost when the flour is heated up in the grinding process.

The Mill gets their wheat from Eastern Washington and Montana and it all gets mixed together and ground into flour. They do a separate run of grinding withShepherd’s Grain wheat, which is grown by a co-op of Eastern Washington farmers. We learned that Bob’s Red Mill, one of the premium brands, get’s flour processed at the ADM Mill and they run it through their stone grinders so they can say it’s stone ground.

As we talked about this last bit of information someone explained, “Wheat is wheat and flour is flour.” In other words, if in doubt get the cheapest brand because it’s probably the same product that’s in the expensive package. Those of us in the Inland Northwest also have the benefit of knowing that in buying flour we are almost always buying local and supporting local farmers.