Why is the cost of food rising so rapidly?

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In much of the developed world, it's all too easy to take a day's meals for granted. Breakfast is something you grab going out the door, lunch is a diversion, and dinner is an evening's entertainment. And while a trip to the grocery store may be a bit of a chore, it's far from a life-and-death situation. However, the rising cost of food threatens to change much of this.

This customer buys food at a grocery store near Frankfurt, Germany. Germany's consumer price index jumped 3.1 percent from March 2007 to March 2008, due to rising food and energy costs.

In the United States, even the poorest households spend only 16 percent of their income on food [source: The New York Times]. In other countries, especially developing nations, that figure reaches 75 percent and higher. Rising food prices may be inconvenient for some households, but in parts of southern Asia and Africa, a 25 percent rise in food costs can lead to starvation, riots and political upheaval.

According to the World Bank, food prices have risen by 83 percent in just three years and will likely continue to rise [source: Cowen]. Governments have imposed tariffs and trade restrictions in an attempt to stabilize prices. In parts of Asia and Africa, food costs are already leading to social unrest. Global organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations World Food Programme are trying to alleviate the suffering. But why are food prices rising so rapidly?

While economists and critics place a great deal of blame on the growing biofuel market, experts identify a number of other contributing factors, ranging from global weather patterns to changing dietary trends.

So will people start pouring water in their cereal because they can't afford the cost of milk? In this article, we'll examine the many factors that are contributing to the rapid rise in food costs.