The recent trend reverses a decade of relatively low food price inflation, Mr. Swanson added, a period in which many Americans got used to buying ample supplies of beef, chicken, turkey and fish. Now that is more of a challenge.
“We do a lot of pasta and beans,” Ms. Mueller said. “It’s a lot cheaper. I miss making big meals, but it’s too hard price-wise.”
For food banks, more expensive meat and produce has stretched budgets even as the number of people seeking help has increased. At the Oregon Food Bank, which distributes food to partners across Oregon and southwest Washington, 1.7 million people sought assistance in 2020, compared with 860,000 in 2019, said Susannah Morgan, the group’s chief executive.
Demand has abated somewhat more recently, but things are nowhere near pre-Covid conditions. While the number of people coming for help in Oregon will probably be closer to 1.3 million this year, “the need is still ridiculously high,” Ms. Morgan said. “Your dollar goes less far in a grocery store.”
The number of people the Maui Food Bank in Wailuku, Hawaii, served more than quadrupled in the early months of the pandemic, jumping from 13,000 people a month to 60,000. The food bank now helps over 20,000 each month in institutions serving mostly low-income communities, such as faith-based organizations, youth centers and senior housing sites.
“We already have the highest food prices in the country,” said Richard Yust, executive director at the Maui Food Bank. “To have food prices continue to escalate creates a great deal of pressure for families who have to feed their kids.”