Why the spike in food prices? That too is complex, but significant elements in the present mix include speculation, high oil prices and a string of weather-related disasters affecting crop production around the globe. Why speculation? Partially because of the cheap money being poured into major economies (or rather, into the financial system) and the unattractiveness of some alternatives in a downturn, that is, such speculation is one manifestation of the ongoing debt crisis that first publicly reared its head in 2008. Why high oil prices? Again, partially due to financial speculation, but this coming on top of long-term supply issues related to the peaking of conventional oil. Why crop failures? Many reasons here too, but among them are a string of destructive weather events consistent with predictions of climate change.
Yes, there are many other causes: repressive governments, rising economies shifting the balance of economic and political power, trends in global consumption patterns, biofuel and agricultural policies, local population growth and migration patterns, corporate interests, and of course the particular contours of various national histories and the actions and beliefs of certain influential individuals. But the triple converging crises of debt, depletion and degradation (also known as economy, energy and ecology) are likely to continue to contribute to these kinds of headlines.
So if you've noticed that some of the food in your shopping trolley has jumped in price recently, don't neglect to join the dots. What is a mild frustration to me in my wealth can mean the straw that breaks the camel's back for a nation closer to the edge. What can you do about it? All kinds of things, because it doesn't have to be this way.