Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cheese problems at Subway

I just encountered the food shortage problem at Subway today.

I noticed that when they made a large sub, they used to put 4 slices of cheese on. Lately they have only been putting 2. I thought this might just be the location that I went to. However, my friend also had the same experience at another location.

So today I asked what was going on. The girl there told me that their cheese came from Australia and that, because of drought, the cows weren't producing as much milk as usual. Also they pointed me to a fax that was posted. It said that the cheese problem was due to crops being shifted to ethanol production. With ethanol being so hot, more crops like corn are being planted to meet the demand and that means other land is being taken out of use for solely food production, for growing vegetables and fruit and raising animals.

I'm not sure what the clear connection is but the food shortage problem is in line with what has been happening in other parts of the world.

Oil prices have reached $117 a barrel. Egypt is trying to stem riots over the price of flour for breads and pasta. Vegetables in Taiwan are getting more and more expensive (this also happens after floods and typhoons because of crop damage). Even vegetable oil, a main staple of Chinese cooking,is creeping up. Things everyone took for granted are being affected.

If conversion to ethanol is really the problem then here is the crux of the environmental movements problem. Drastic changes like this have destabilizing effects as investors gauge the new value of the crops for fuel. And besides, is ethanol really a decent solution or even a stop-gap measure?

Oil and electricity prices have been capped until May 20. What happens after that is anyone's guess. Suddenly, that fourth nuclear reactor for Taiwan doesn't seem like such a bad idea. I wonder if the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) folks will soften under such energy need pressures. Would you rather have coal or prohibitively expensive and sometimes impractical alternative energy (wind, solar, hydro) which amount to just a trickle of what the country needs?

There are some difficult decisions to be made. For now, I decide to let those two extra slices of cheese go and pay the same price so I guess I'm doing my part.
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