Category Archives: food

The Geometry of Perfectly Roasted Potatoes

The Edge Hotel School at the University of Essex has unleashed the power of geometry to give its students an edge within the very competitive hospitality industry. They've identified the optimal angle for slicing potatoes to craft the ultimate roasted potato dish.

Their two-minute long video summarizes their research findings:

By slicing a potato in half along its long axis, then cutting the halves at a 30-degree angle, they maximize their surface area of the potatoes, which leads to better tasting results when they're roasted.

Economically prepare better tasting food is a very big deal in the hospitality industry. Developing a method of economically preparing a better tasting roasted potato can indeed make a difference at the margin. A difference that can determine success or failure in an industry known for having relatively low net margins.

HT: The UI Junkie.

Previously on Political Calculations

Consumers Catch a Break in Egg Prices

The Dimensioned Egg, based on photo by Jasmin Egger via Unsplash -

As expected, the price of a dozen Grade A eggs fell in February 2023, dropping 12.4% to $4.21 on average nationally from $4.81 in January 2023. That's still about $2.21 higher per dozen than they were a year earlier, but a positive development all the same.

The prices of eggs of all types fell 6.7% from January to February 2023 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, the Urner Barry Egg Index has been increasing in recent weeks, with the wholesale price of a dozen eggs rising from a low of $1.95 on 13 February 2023 to $2.80 on 13 March 2023. That suggests egg prices will not be falling back to where they were before the spread of avian flu forced egg producers to cull their flocks for some time to come.

We don't plan to continue following the price of eggs in the U.S. For us, it was a fun exercise to work out when a top in retail prices for a rapidly rising commodity would be likely to take place. Our long, slow transition into a food blog will go in other directions!...


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graphics for Economic News Releases. Average price data (in U.S. dollars), selected items (Eggs, grade A, large, per doz.). [Online Application]. Accessed 14 February 2023.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control. H5N1 Bird Flu Detections across the United States (Backyard and Commercial). Data Table. [CSV Data]. Accessed 14 February 2023.

Urner Barry. Urner Barry Egg Index. [Online Application]. 13 February 2023. Accessed 13 February 2023.

Image credit: Photo by Jasmin Egger on Unsplash, to which we added the dimensional annotations, and originally featured here!

Previously on Political Calculations

Here's where we've previously covered avian flu and its effects on the prices of turkeys and eggs.

Visualizing 25 Years of U.S. Soybean Exports to China

Soy beans closeup by Daniela Paola Alchapar via Unsplash -

From time to time during our projects, we accumulate and present data that is interesting in and of itself. Today, that involves 25 years worth of data about U.S. exports of soybeans to China!

Soybeans are the United States' top export to China. In 2022, China bought $17.9 billion worth of soybeans from the U.S., the most it ever has in nominal terms. The following chart shows the value of the soybeans that U.S. producers have sold to China's buyers from 1997 through 2022.

Nominal Value of U.S. Soybean Exports to China, 1997 - 2022

But U.S. producers delivered only 1,117 million bushels of soybeans to China's buyers in 2022, the fifth highest total shipped during the past 25 years, as shown in the next chart. 2016 holds the record at 1,325 million bushels, while 2020 ranks second.

Quantity (Bushels) of U.S. Soybean Exports to China, 1997 - 2022

While U.S. soybean exports to China generally shows a rising trend over time, the years of 2018 and 2019 deviate from the trend. That deviation was a consequence of the U.S. and China's tariff war that took place during those years.

The final chart connects the previous two charts by showing the average nominal price per bushels that China's buyers have paid for U.S. soybeans during each of these 25 years.

Average Price per Bushel of U.S. Soybean Exports to China, 1997 - 2022

In 2022, China's buyers paid an average of $16.00 for each bushel of U.S. soybeans they bought, the highest nominal price they've paid from 1997 through 2022. The second highest average price of $15.46 per bushel was recorded in 2012 and the third highest price of $14.74 per bushel was in 2013. These highest-ranking years for soybean price stand out because they coincided with severe drought conditions faced by soybean growers in the U.S. and, in the case of 2022, that also occurred elsewhere in the world.


U.S. Department of Agriculture. Foreign Agricultural Service. Global Agricultural Trade System Standard Query Database. [Online Database]. Accessed 12 March 2023.

Image credit: Photo by Daniela Paola Alchapar on Unsplash.

How Campbell’s Tomato Soup Is Made

In 2008, the Food Network's Unwrapped visited Campbell Soup's test kitchens to learn how the company works to produce its then 110-year-old product. Here's a just over three-minute long video clip of the segment:

What Unwrapped couldn't show in the segment is the process by which Campbell Soup condenses its tomato soup, which was a massive innovation that enabled the company to ship its product to a larger market at less cost than its competitors. Removing water from the soup greatly reduced the amount of soup that had to be canned and shipped, where the real trick lay in doing that without harming its flavor.

Now entering its 125th year of production, Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup represents its second best seller, ranking behind the company's Chicken Noodle Soup that was introduced in 1934.

In 2008, the cost of an iconic Number One size can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup ranged between $0.50 and $0.80 cents per can, with its average price hovering around $0.70 per can. Fifteen years later, the typical price U.S. consumers pay for the same size can of Campbell's tomato soup is over $1.20 per can, with the last 20+ cents of that increase being added within the past year.

Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup Unit Price per Can, January 2000 - March 2023

2022's inflation appears to be slowing, with no major price increases recorded for Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup during the past three months. In January 2023, the Kroger family of grocery stores sold 10.75 ounce cans of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup for $1.00 per can, which looks to be the lowest price consumers can now expect to find it at when the soup is put on sale at deeply discounted prices. From 2010 through 2021, a price of $1.00 per can was the ceiling for how much American consumers would pay for the cozy comfort food.

When Will the Inflating Price of Eggs Break?

Consumer price inflation came in hotter than expected in January 2023. While the rate of inflation has moderated since peaking at 9.1% in June 2022, the prices of many goods are still rising quite rapidly. Especially eggs, whose price rise during 2022 was illustrated very well by metalytIQ:

metalytIQ - Surge in Egg Prices: 2022 Rise of Average Price for Grade A Dozen Eggs in the U.S.

If metalytIQ's chart extended into January 2023, it would show the average price for a dozen Grade A eggs in the U.S. rising to $4.83. Since eggs represent one of the least expensive and most popular sources of protein for Americans, that's a very big deal.

Unlike most products affected by President Biden's COVID-stimulus fueled-inflation, the rising price of eggs has been driven by a devastating tragedy. The spread of H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (a.k.a. the 2022 bird flu) has led the culling of over 58 million birds in the U.S., including over 40 million table egg-laying hens at commercial farms.

That's nearly one out of eight of the U.S. estimated population of 323 million table egg-laying population of chickens in January 2022. That may sound like much, but eggs are a food product with very few acceptable substitutes, so demand for eggs has remained elevated, even though the supply has shrunk considerably. Since the prices for goods like eggs are set at the margin, that combination of demand and supply has produced an outsized increase in the price consumers pay for eggs.

How much longer might that last?

Since a negative change in supply produced such a large increase in the price of eggs, it stands to reason that a positive change in supply can reverse it. If we know how long it might take the commerical table-egg producing farms to recover from the loss of their flocks, we can project when the rising price of eggs might break.

We tapped a number of sources to put together the following basic timetable for resuming full egg production after an outbreak of the H5N1 influenza virus has been detected in a farm's population of chickens.

  • Day 0: Viral infection is detected within a farm's flock.
  • Day 1: The entire farm's flock is culled.
  • Week 1: The disinfection of the farm's facilities is completed.
  • Week 4: The farm's facilities have tested clear of infection for a full three weeks.
  • Weeks 4-8: A new population of chicks is introduced.
  • Week 30: The first small eggs start being laid.
  • Week 36: Eggs being laid reach their "full" size for commercial production.
  • Week 38: Hens reach their peak frequency for laying eggs.

Now, we've taken the CDC's data for when the H5N1 bird flu was first detected at commercial table-egg producing farms during 2022 and have projected when the recovery in supply would occur if all goes according to that timetable. The following chart shows the results:

Loss and Recovery of Egg Production at U.S. Farms Following Detection of H5N1 Bird Flu, January 2022 - February 2023

Based on that 38 week recovery time, our back of the envelope timetable would predict that the egg supply would begin recovering in early December 2022, with a fairly robust recovery through January 2023. That scenario would coincide with the commercial farms that were first to be negatively impacted by the 2022 bird flu coming back online after repopulating their egg-laying flocks.

We can check the our egg supply recovery projection using wholesale egg prices, or rather, the prices paid by the firms in between the farms and grocery store consumers. For that data, we pulled the Urner Barry Egg Index shortly after it was updated through 13 February 2023:

Urner Barry Egg Index, 30 December 2019 - 6 February 2023

Note the wholesale price of eggs starts spiking upward beginning in March 2022, just after the first major outbreaks of H5N1 bird flu at several large commercial egg-producing farms. Flashing forward, we see the wholesale prices of eggs in the U.S. peaked on 19 December 2023, which is close but is some 2 to 3 weeks after our timetable would predict. Since 19 December 2023, the wholesale price of a dozen eggs has dropped from $4.63 to $1.91 as of 13 February 2023.

The price of eggs tracked in the Consumer Price Index for January 2023 is based on prices that applied during the week of 12 January 2023. Assuming a lag of about four weeks for changes in wholesale prices to impact retail prices, we think it's quite possible January 2023 saw the peak in the retail price of eggs for American grocery shoppers. As you're reading this, the rising price of eggs has most likely already broken, with lower egg prices soon to show up at your local grocery store if they haven't already.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graphics for Economic News Releases. Average price data (in U.S. dollars), selected items (Eggs, grade A, large, per doz.). [Online Application]. Accessed 14 February 2023.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control. H5N1 Bird Flu Detections across the United States (Backyard and Commercial). Data Table. [CSV Data]. Accessed 14 February 2023.

Urner Barry. Urner Barry Egg Index. [Online Application]. 13 February 2023. Accessed 13 February 2023.

Previously on Political Calculations

Believe it or not, we have covered the economic effects of bird flu on agricultural goods before! Here's a sampling of that coverage in chronological order, which mainly focuses on the impact of 2015's bird flu epidemic on U.S. farm-raised turkeys:

Mostly off topic, here's where we purposefully featured articles involving eggs!