“Let them eat cake.”
These famous words are often attributed to Marie Antoinette who (equally famously) eventually lost her head over her inability to read a room.
France’s last queen may or may not have actually uttered the phrase – in response to news of the exorbitant price of bread – before meeting Madame La Guillotine in 1793, but the words continue to resonate.
Today’s monarchs have swapped lace collars and velvet robes for sweater-vests and khakis. Now, they go on TV, where they continue to offer trite catch-phrases that reveal just how out of touch they are with the average consumer.
They are our grocery magnates, and while many regular folk struggle to put food on the table – be it bread or cake – they are getting substantially wealthier by the day, it appears.
I’m certainly doing my part to help them.
For example, after returning last week from vacation, I needed to refill an empty refrigerator.
With only one or two traditionally higher-ticket items, like laundry soap, in the cart, I still managed to shell out $230 in short order.
This included no meat, aside from one small package of bacon that was “on sale” for more than it cost at regular price not long ago.
Dairy and produce – the latter fresh, frozen and canned – made up the bulk of my purchases. As frustrating as it was to pay $5 for a carton of milk and $9 for a single spaghetti squash, the price of chicken, beef and pork placed them firmly in the “maybe next time” column.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I probably include more meat in my diet than I should. But for some people, it is off the menu entirely, replaced by beans and other lower-cost proteins.
I was standing at the meat counter at a grocery store late last year as a woman near me stared in dismay at the prices and commented that she didn’t know how much longer she could afford to continue eating.
Of course, food is not a discretionary purchase, but I understood her point.
We can adjust our diets, clip coupons, buy items on sale and freeze them, or compromise on the quality of the food we eat, but the overall trend is up, up, up.
And it’s putting a ton of pressure on the most vulnerable people in our community. I can only imagine what it must be like for a senior on a fixed income or a single parent trying to feed a growing family. It’s no surprise that rising demand is stretching local food banks to their limit.
This trend of skyrocketing food prices has been dubbed “greedflation,” and the federal NDP is happy to make political hay out of the situation.
They’ve calledon the Trudeau government to extend its investigation into the rapid rise in food costs until CEOs of the major grocery store chains are forced to explain themselves, which they have so far managed to avoid doing.
“While families are deciding if they can afford the more than 35 per cent hike on a head of lettuce – grocery CEOs are making billions in profits,” reads an NDP release, issued Feb. 21.
“In fact last year, Loblaws made an extra million dollars a day … It doesn’t make any sense, and Canadians deserve answers from the big CEOs profiting off of food.”
They’re not wrong – the numbers are hard to swallow.
They’re also probably not going to get far with their demands.
There’s a reason things got as bloody as they did in 18th century France. We live in a world where people, once they’ve risen to a certain level, are nearly impossible to hold to account. It’s bizarre to think that grocery chain CEOs fall into that category, but here we are.
It’s certainly not too much to demand a little transparency.
Obviously, the stakes aren’t quite as high as they were 200 years ago, but if things continue the way they have been, at some point, the view from the top of the tower may once again include torches and pitchforks – even if this time, they’re only metaphorical.
For now, though, it appears these modern-day monarchs will have their cake.
And they’ll eat it, too.
Right in front of us peasants.
Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.