UPPER TOWNSHIP — Easter would not be the same without John Jandura’s homemade borscht, a traditional Polish soup he makes with 2 pounds of ham and kielbasa.
“The kids go crazy,” said Maura Jandura, as the couple waited in line at Blitz’s Market in Seaville.
But the Janduras, who own a cottage at nearby Lake and Shore Campground, said that delicacy has become increasingly costly as the price of pork products has risen in recent years.
Blitz’s owner, Dave Newman, could attest to that as well.
“It’s just gone up and up and up,” said Newman, of Egg Harbor Township.
Major producers have been passing on to consumers the higher costs of pig feed and an industry initiative to house swine in more humane conditions.
Ham has been selling wholesale for 75 to 80 cents per pound this spring, which is in line with last year’s prices, but above the 55 cents per pound average for the previous five years.
That may not necessarily mean families are ditching the tradition of eating pork products on Easter, a practice that dates to Medieval times, but it is yet another burden for shrunken budgets in today’s economy.
For those groups that help supply food to families who have to watch every penny, such as the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean counties, the price of ham is only the latest issue they have had to confront. The program serves 127,000 different people annually in the two shore counties, a number that’s grown dramatically in the past few years.
“We are seeing fewer donations of ham, but we’ve been seeing just a huge drop in overall local donations,” said Barbara Schultz, director of advocacy and programs. “People are just less likely to go out and buy food and donate it to the food bank.”
A major driver in the recent cost increases has been the price of feed, which is mainly made up of corn. It is currently running about $6 a bushel, slightly down from the record high of $7.99 per bushel set last June.
At the same time, several of the nation’s major pork suppliers are overhauling their operations amid public pressure from consumers and animal welfare advocates who believe keeping pigs in small cages is cruel.
One major producer, Smithfield Foods, recently said it expects to spend nearly $300 million by 2017 to convert small gestation crates at its barns into larger open pens. The switch also requires more labor to manage the sows because they tend to fight.
The move has also been precipitated by a number of states outlawing the cramped cages, sometimes no bigger than the pigs themselves, as well as food companies demanding better conditions from their suppliers.
But those added costs may be passed on to the consumer. Rising energy and gas prices and overseas demand have also been factors.
While ham is a traditional element of many Easter meals, prices typically peak in June, near the height of the grilling season when domestic demand is highest.
The low point is usually at the end of the calendar year because that’s when large numbers of hogs reach the market.
Americans consume about 51 pounds of pork a year each on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At Blitz’s, which primarily sells luncheon meat, a pound of Virginia baked ham that is $5.99 today would have been at least $1 cheaper two years ago, Newman said.
That’s an increase he’s seen in his own shopping as well. He’s been shocked to see a pound of bacon reach $4 or more.
“I’ve never seen it that high,” he said.
But for the Janduras, that just means it will be more expensive this weekend to make cheese pies, which John Jandura said features bacon and a list of other ingredients he excitedly described.
“He’s the chef, as you can tell,” Maura Jandura said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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