Feeling like everything is higher is not your imagination

Feeling like everything is higher is not your imagination

“Oh, I know. I have to shop for groceries tomorrow, and I really don’t want to,” the woman said as she beeped the two rolls of paper towels for $9, the $5 bag of frozen vegetables, the $7 eggs and the $5 bag of chips through the checkout. I’d complained good-naturedly about the inflated price of virtually everything on the shelves.

“I don’t know how large families are surviving,” I answered. I heard the echo of my parent’s voices during the Carter years. “It’s just three of us at my house, and I wonder how we’re going to afford to eat.”

It seems like everything I pick up at the store these days is 30-50% higher than over the summer. To be clear, I’m cheap.

This column is called We Ate Well and Cheaply for a reason. One cannot eat cheaply now at all, as nothing is cheap or even reasonable.

Entering a grocery store this week, the shelf with special markdowns positioned near the entrance had snack crackers I like, and I picked up the box without thinking, until I saw the price. It was a special deal: two boxes of snack crackers for $9. I put them back down, cursing rather loudly as I passed the $15 fancy olive cart on the way to buy a $5 loaf of bread.

The jokes about young men presenting their girlfriends with an engagement egg are not so far fetched. After shopping for food, one can only buy gas, still at a relatively steady price, as a consolation. At least we aren’t seeing the long lines to buy gasoline that marked those Carter years.

Eggs continue to be really pricey, and that’s still due to the lingering effects of the 2022 outbreak of avian flu, which hit laying hens the hardest. Oddly enough, chickens produced for meat were not so badly hit by the flu, and the price of chicken has actually begun to fall.

Feeling like everything is higher is not your imagination. While eggs are the biggest increase at almost 50% higher from November 2021 to November 2022, butter is up 34%; lettuce 20%; cereal, bread and pet food 16%; and milk and poultry 15%.

Those are layered over increases in utility rates, airfare, rent and cars. There are just a few things that are actually cheaper than a year ago, like smartphones, televisions and beef, but who can afford a new TV when you’re taking out a loan for eggs?

The predictions by the brainy sorts who figure such things out say we won’t see any major turnaround soon. Ongoing COVID-19 supply woes, labor difficulties (kicking migratory workers out of the country has the predictable effect of creating a shortage of the migratory workers on whom we depend) and other factors I don’t remember from economics class conspire to drain our purses for essentials.

Our elderly dog is giving me the stink eye every time she comes in from outside because I haven’t been springing for treats, and she won’t earn her keep by eating the cheese that’s gone off instead.

Something that is still pretty cheap to eat is a potato, and I’ve been baking them in a simple way that comes from Britain. They’re cooked at a high temperature for a long time until they’re quite creamy inside with a crispy skin.

ENGLISH BAKED POTATO

2 large potatoes, russet or Yukon Gold

Salt and pepper

Toppings of your choice: butter, sour cream, bacon crumbles, chives

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Wash the potatoes and dry them well. Cut a shallow X in one side of each to allow steam to escape, then place them directly on the oven rack. Roast for 1 1/2 hours, then remove from the oven, cut the X a little deeper in each and put them back in for another 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper, along with your chosen toppings, while hot.