Tesco Boss Larry Phillip has finally come out to say that the days of cheap food prices are over. "Because of growing global demand, it is going to change. There's going to be more demand and more pressure. Over the long term I think food prices and people's proportion of income may well be going up but we'll be doing our bit. Unless more food is produced prices must go up. It's the basic law of supply and demand." Ah economics, how you attempt to explain everything. But what does this all mean?
It means that we are going to have to pay more for food that ever before. It seems as if a lot of people are already well accustomed to higher food prices, which have risen by 25% over the last five years. An estimated 18 per cent of the UK is suffering from food poverty. Is it possible to continue to eat healthily while food prices rise? Processed, ready-made meals have been said to contribute to obesity levels. However, unfortunately such food is often cheaper than their healthy alternatives. What is the answer?
Great British Budget Menu
The BBC recently tried to highlight the plight of those suffering from food poverty on the Great British Budget Menu where they got three celebrity chefs to live with families on the breadline for a week and help them shop for and cook nutritious meals on a tight budget. They struggled. A lot. It seems the world of glugs of olive oil, crispy pancetta, porcini mushrooms and scallops isn't used to the challenges that most home cooks are met with - tight budgets. While some solutions were found, one of the chefs suddenly went out and blew the budget by buying fresh salmon. The reality for many is that blowing the budget isn't an option. If you cannot afford it, you put it back.
One thing the GBBM chefs understood (and I am always championing) was the importance of starting with a store cupboard. The BBC list of key ingredients is quite similar to mine. However, weirdly, I see a significant lack of legumes on the store cupboard list. Where are all the cheap, but nutritious kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils?
A Girl Called Jack
One woman who certainly knows a thing or two about legumes is Jack. When Jack lost her job she met food poverty straight on - having to go without, in order to feed her son. However, she realised that this was not sustainable and her blog on how to cook on a very tight budget is getting lots of attention. I took a look at her meal plan on how to feed two on £10 a week.
When I am considering meal plans, there are various things that are important to factor in: good value, food waste, variety, healthiness, taste, convenience etc. I must commend Jack in her innovative use of limited products, however I do have some qualms around the healthiness. The advised five a day for fruit and vegetables looks low on the ground. Seven days, two people, five a day - that should be 70 portions of fruit or vegetables. Portions are smaller than you would expect - you can get three or four portions out of a tin of carrots. But still...
Also - how many tinned products are there? Jack has come out in favour of the tin - budget prevails. However, when vegetables are canned, they are usually boiled beforehand, thus removing most of the nutrients. The price need not be prohibitive. I checked Tesco just now - a 300g tin of sliced carrots retails at 20p. Given that it is likely 100g of the tin is water, 200g of tinned carrots at 20p doesn't fare too badly against 200g of fresh carrots at 26p (a 600g bag of fresh carrots retails at 78p). Also - check out how white the potatoes are. Have you ever seen potatoes that white? They must have been bleached. And no meat or fish? Jack has undoubtedly done the best with what she has, but if I had an extra pound or two, I would favour fresh choices every time.
Food poverty is a serious issue. A lot of people bemoan Tesco, their counterparts and their massive profits for this issue. They are certainly part of the issue, but let's not forget - their first responsibility is to their shareholders. This is a bigger issue - one that needs a multi-sector approach across all parts of society. In the meantime, educating people about the savings and health benefits of meal planning is one step in the right direction.