The Cost Of Our Food

Kaitlin Dryburgh – 27 October 2022

Last Sunday I set about to make a lasagne, it was a kind of cooking expedition that was going to take the whole day as I simmered the meat sauce, seasoned well, and made a creamy bechamel sauce that bubbles and goes ever so slightly crispy on top. I love cooking so enjoyed it greatly, the only thing was this cost me just over £15.

Now fair enough I wasn’t using the cheapest of the cheap to make this lasagne, just good quality produce from the local shops and supermarket for my tasty Italian meal. Unfortunately, I can absolutely not afford to be doing that every week, even if I did drop the quality of the ingredients.

The cost of food has sharply risen in the past couple weeks/months (so has everything else I hear you say, with an accompanying eyeroll). Except just like my lasagne there are very concerning factors bubbling under the surface that ensure that the issues we’re experiencing right now will become more widespread and troubling over-time.

As of right now Scotland and the rest of the UK is in quite the pickle, we’ve seen inflation hit the price of our weekly food shops immensely however the price of some products seem to have overtaken the rise in inflation. Some of the costliest items including vegetable oil, pasta and tea have risen in price from 46%-65%, within a year.

Of course it isn’t just the top shelf items that have increased in price but budget items have also increased, in the past year budget ranges across the UK have increased in price by 65.2%. This is probably most pressing as the demand for budget items or own brand foods is at its highest demand ever, as shoppers have no options but to leave the more expensive branded goods and reach for the own brands. The demand is so high that Asda couldn’t fill the demand and shelves started to look extremely empty and subsequently had to limit the number of items one shopper can buy from its range at any one time.

With the increase in fuel, the housing market a complete mess and the pound taking a ride on a roller coaster (thanks for that Trussy!) people’s purses are tight. We have food banks already depleting their reserve stocks even before the winter months kick in and the demand grows.

This week an ever-depressing piece of news landed probably masked by Truss’s rocky last days, a hospital in Leicester has opened up a food bank for their staff. This shouldn’t be the case, this shouldn’t be the thanks that NHS staff get for all the self-less work they do, of course as stated this isn’t just because food is expensive but it certainly doesn’t help. A food bank in Kinross which helps to support many many families through out the area has stated that the cost of one single food parcel has rose from £39 to £58. The normalisation of food banks as an accepted service in our community is disheartening in itself but the fact that their very existence is on a shaky peg is devastating. As Annie McCormack who runs the food bank in Kinross says people will prioritise having a roof over their heads, making sure their children have everything for school etc before food, and therefore it slips to the bottom of the list. So although food prices have increased perhaps what we need to look at more pressingly, are where we get our food and can we make the other household financial outputs less expensive.

What was once believed to be such steadfast and impenetrable supply chains now are starting to topple over. The current war in Ukraine has most definitely impacted how readily we can access foods and the stability of global food markets, pre-war Ukraine exported six million tonnes of agricultural commodities monthly to the Middle East, Africa and Asia but is also the biggest producer of seed oils globally, which makes it easy to see why prices have gone up so much.

We can blame the energy crisis, the war in Ukraine and supply chains still recovering from Covid but there’s an even more looming crisis that will just about destroy the ever-certain food supply chains that we knew before Covid, climate change. We’ve seen it here in Scotland, everything is more extreme, hotter summers and winters, crazy winds and flash floods, and that’s happening in a country where the weather is (in comparison to rest of the world) fairly mild.

When taking rice as an example, which has been one of the food products rising in price, two of the biggest exporters have had their productions near about scuppered by adverse weather. India’s uneven monsoon rains have hit their rice planting, and as such they’ve had to put controls of rice exports and increase export tax in order to alleviate their own domestic food prices. Then we have Pakistan, a major rice exporter who has been hit with some of the most devastating floods modern Pakistan has ever seen, they’ve been unable to hold the same production rate as they did the year before and subsequently lost 10% of their estimated yield from this year.

There are examples like this all over the world, droughts, warmer climates, and extreme weather and its always the poorest in the world that are hit the worst, that die, have to leave their homes, and become displaced.

Now it seems that food insecurity has crept its way over to this neck of the woods, proving that relying on the weather has become an increasingly dangerous bet. We are currently a country that has put neoliberal financial markets ahead of industry, have become one of the least self-sufficient countries in the western world and therefore food insecurity and weak supply chains is one of the biggest threats to the average household, even if we don’t all know it.

This is all very ironic as the greenhouse gases created from our addiction to importing food has now made it harder to rely upon it.

Almost half of all the food in the UK is imported, that means that half of everything in your supermarket is at risk of rising costs, supply problems and almost disappearing. Who knows we may be wrestling in the aisles to get the last pineapple?

So why cant we just grow it ourselves? Why can’t communities and areas have more control over their own food supplies, using technologies that are well established and successful. When importing and exporting was the shiniest and newest thing we took advantage of that, times have moved on and so has our knowledge so let’s change how we do it. Yes food will overall be more expensive, not unaffordable, but stable, sustainable, and of much better quality. However, this has to coincide with one important thing, housing. People should be paying less for their housing, they should have available to them a housing market that is fair and stable and doesn’t require people to spend over half of their salary to keep a roof over their heads, to then come home to poor quality food.

We can’t keep going down the current path, we need to have a secure food supply chain that is of high quality, and invest in the food production line over here, to help create a bigger yet sustainable food production industry. If we ensure we pay less for better housing we will all be able to afford good quality, home-grown food. Eventually we will be forced to do this we won’t have an option, so let’s be prepared and get ahead of this catastrophe, not only will it help us in the long-run but it will significantly drop our carbon output instantly.

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