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MSU poll shows majority of Americans concerned about impact of inflation on food prices

Person with long hair in focus, looking at aisle of drinks in grocery store (out of focus)
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The poll found 82% of Americans are very concerned about the effects of inflation on grocery bills.

A large majority of Americans are concerned about the impact of inflation on their grocery bills.

That’s according to new results from Michigan State University’s Food Literacy and Engagement Poll.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Sheril Kirshenbaum, who is a co-director of the biannual poll, about its findings.

Interview Highlights

On the kinds of questions the poll asks

Every wave of the survey, we ask some questions over and over and some new questions that are usually very timely, given what's going on in terms of world events or what's making news, what's on our minds. So, this specific wave of the poll, we looked specifically at inflation and people's attitudes about how they might be affecting food prices overall.

On how inflation and the pandemic has impacted spending habits

We saw that 43%, so approaching half, said that the higher prices have altered their diet or their food choices. And of that group, we see more than half, 51%, are buying less expensive cuts of meat. 46% say they're choosing generic brands or bulk items. 45% are purchasing fewer products. We see a lot of changes, but I think the biggest red flag to me is 29% are actually just saying they're consuming less food, and that should be alarming to all of us.

On why it's important to ask these questions

A lot of the times we see different challenges facing Americans as very disjointed. But really, they're all part of a bigger comprehensive story. So, what happens in terms of geopolitics, what happens in Ukraine, what happens in terms of COVID, and supply chain challenges and the economy, all of these things come together to affect our lives every day, our neighbors, our communities, and should help us prioritize both personal planning, but also community planning, even business decisions. All of these factors that ultimately lead to how we live on a daily basis.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: A large majority of Americans are concerned about the impact of inflation on their grocery bills

That’s according to new results from Michigan State University’s Food Literacy and Engagement Poll.

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a co-director of the biannual poll. She joins me now. Thank you for being here.

Sheril Kirshenbaum: Thanks so much for having me on, Sophia.

Saliby: Can you tell me a little about the poll and the types of questions you asked people?

Kirshenbaum: Sure. We conduct the MSU Food Literacy and Engagement Poll every six months to get a sense of where Americans are on a variety of food issues. So, every wave of the survey, we ask some questions over and over and some new questions that are usually very timely, given what's going on in terms of world events or what's making news, what's on our minds.

We looked specifically at inflation and people's attitudes about how they might be affecting food prices overall.

So, this specific wave of the poll, we looked specifically at inflation and people's attitudes about how they might be affecting food prices overall.

Saliby: We're now two years into the pandemic. What trends have you seen as you've polled Americans on their food insecurity and access to groceries, some of those questions that appear every year?

Kirshenbaum: We've seen a rise in concern over the price of food, especially with regard to the pandemic. So, our last wave of the survey from late 2021 specifically looked at COVID's impact on people's access to food and people's experiences at the grocery store. And we saw growing levels of concern, concern over higher food prices, concern about things like just getting to the market.

I think we take for granted that this is all specifically about income and changing jobs. But really, there was fear over how someone would get to the supermarket, if they could take public transportation. And then of course, different people have been impacted differently by the pandemic as well.

So, we're seeing this in a lot of ways, all related to our food system, and of course, the supply chain is part of that as well.

Saliby: On that note, you also asked about how people are changing their diet or what they buy because of inflation. What did they say?

Kirshenbaum: Yes, well, 43% of our respondents, and this is a nationally representative poll. So, we surveyed well over 2,000 Americans, representative based on different demographic information.

We saw that 43%, so approaching half, said that the higher prices have altered their diet or their food choices. And of that group, we see more than half, 51%, are buying less expensive cuts of meat. 46% say they're choosing generic brands or bulk items. 45% are purchasing fewer products.

I think the biggest red flag to me is 29% are actually just saying they're consuming less food, and that should be alarming to all of us.

We see a lot of changes, but I think the biggest red flag to me is 29% are actually just saying they're consuming less food, and that should be alarming to all of us.

Saliby: I guess, overall, why is it important to ask these questions? Or what kind of bigger picture are we getting when we ask these questions?

Kirshenbaum: The Food Literacy and Engagement Poll gives us a sense of where we are as a country. So, a lot of the times, we see different challenges facing Americans as very disjointed. But really, they're all part of a bigger comprehensive story.

What happens in terms of geopolitics, what happens in Ukraine, what happens in terms of COVID, and supply chain challenges and the economy, all of these things come together to affect our lives every day.

So, what happens in terms of geopolitics, what happens in Ukraine, what happens in terms of COVID, and supply chain challenges and the economy, all of these things come together to affect our lives every day, our neighbors, our communities, and should help us prioritize both personal planning, but also community planning, even business decisions. All of these factors that ultimately lead to how we live on a daily basis.

Saliby: Were there any other interesting takeaways from the poll, something that is completely new this time?

Kirshenbaum: One thing that kind of surprised me, although maybe it shouldn't, is that we saw 37% of Americans said that they believe that President Biden is responsible for rising food prices.

It's an interesting side note to sort of how we perceive where the price of food comes from. It might be startling to some people to think that many Americans think it comes from the top.

Also, a question that isn't related to inflation and food prices, specifically, is simply a look at what people think of issues like GMOs. There's a question that we asked for the second time, and we found that 45% of Americans did not know that all food contains genes.

We can see if 45% of Americans are unaware that all food contains genes, well, we're leaving the public largely out of this big policy discussion.

Personally, I find that very surprising because here's an issue where the science is already so far ahead of the policy, in terms of, you know, whether or not people are talking about introducing bans to certain genetically modified organisms. And yet, we can see if 45% of Americans are unaware that all food contains genes, well, we're leaving the public largely out of this big policy discussion.

So, it just gives us a way to look at what people understand and know about our food system that sustains us, that that drives us in so many ways. But in so many ways, we're also very disconnected from. And once again, we see about half of Americans 50% say they rarely or never think about where their food comes from

Saliby: Sheril Kirshenbaum is the co-director of MSU's Food Literacy and Engagement Poll. Thank you for joining me.

Kirshenbaum: Thank you so much for having me on.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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