Friday, 6 September 2013

The Food Challenge

The food challenge – how it’s going
That wonderful book,  your Money or Your Life has a quote;
‘the real inflation is inflation of our needs, wants and desires.’
It goes like this.  Something starts out as a luxury.  Then it becomes a comfort and then it becomes a need.  Think of almost anything and you can follow its track along this path.

Eg the phone.  To start with they were a luxury item and then more people got one and it became something every reasonably well off person had.  Then it became essential because of safety.  The trouble is that before phones, people just popped round to a neighbour’s house for help but now it is not seen as ‘proper’ to do that, so are we really safer? 

Mobile phones went the same way – started out as a luxury and now they are essential and we don’t feel safe without one.  But before we all had mobiles there were phone boxes all over the place, and you told someone where you were going.   Okay maybe the odd person is saved from a charging bull by phoning a friend but then again how many people are lulled into a false sense of security because they have a mobile in the first place and take risks they would not otherwise consider.

So what has this to do with food? 
Bernadine Lawrence wrote an amazing book about food in the 1980s called ‘How to Feed Your Family for £5 ($7.50) a day’.  It was re-printed once in the 1990s and when I last looked it was out of print.  However one very beneficial effect of the recession is that it has now been re-printed.   When she first wrote it she and her husband were totally broke, on benefits with four children and living in a high rise flat.  It was her powerful statement about how to survive and thrive when times are hard.  Every item was costed out carefully and thoroughly researched.

in the 1980s it was called ‘how to feed your family for £4 a day. 

In the 1990s it was called ‘how to feed your family for £5 a day.

In 2012 it was STILL called ‘how to feed your family for £5 a day.

In other words, the essential cost of feeding your family of six has gone up by a grand total of £7 a week since the mid 1980s.  Bernadine’s book outlines a tasty, home cooked and sensible diet, with meat on some days of the week but not every day.  There is lots of food for everyone and no one would be left hungry.  But I bet most people’s food budget has gone up a lot since the 1980s.  When you think about what has changed about the food we buy though, even if you cook everything from scratch our needs wants and desires have increased.   When I went through the book there were only a few items that have gone up in price and many have gone down.  Watercress was more expensive because you now buy it in fancy packets rather than simple bunches from the greengrocer.

But now we want blueberries rather than picking blackberries, pineapple instead of rhubarb and lots of fancy sweets, puddings and instant meals.  An instant meal used to be a boiled egg and brown bread  or beans on toast didn’t it?

The humble potato is a good example of how marketing gets us to spend more money for the same thing.  You can buy a 25kg sack of potatoes for £5/$7.50 if you shop around.  Or a smaller bag of potatoes for much more money.  Or chill cabinet mashed potato for £1.50/$2.25 for 100g.  Or a bag of chips for £2/£3.00 or a packet of crisps at 50p/75c for 20g.   

Our food budget
For the last few weeks I have been keeping watch on what proportion of our diet   we have grown, swapped or otherwise procured free or very cheaply. 
Today’s dinner was a vegetable and puy lentil curry.  The giant courgette was part of one of U Boat proportions that was given to us by a friend.  No one wanted it because of its extravagant size.  A tiny slice of it went into the pot. We added potatoes, shallots and cabbage from the garden plus some frozen cauliflower and a tin of those puy lentils that someone gave me because they had had it in the cupboard for ages and would never use it.  Pudding was some apples that I swapped at a coffee morning.  Ours are not quite ready yet.  So the only things we bought were the rice and the frozen cauliflower - £1 a bag and I used about a sixth of it. 

This is where we don’t buy organic.  We buy those organic things which are nearly as cheap as the non organic ones, such as brown rice or couscous.  We grow organic veg at home and use non organic stuff the rest of the time.  the logic is that I will get ill quicker by having to work long hours to pay for all that extra organic stuff instead of working out in the garden in my free time.  total cost of the meal then was about £1 and there is enough left for a family of five.

What pushes the food bill up is when I go to the supermarket or worse to a wholefood shop and Get Tempted.  I come home with lots of fancy fruit I didn’t want until I saw it, olives, special rice instead of ordinary rice, special pasta instead of ordinary pasta and so on.  And every time I take my eye off the food bill it goes up again, so vigilance is the secret weapon.

This week has been a good one for the food bill though.  salads from the garden, eggs which we gained by swapping, a totally yummy fish curry with fish that was a gift from a non fish eating fisherman.  We are trying to be good and eat what we have growing here and to have a good, plain diet.  I was stunned when watching the series Edwardian Farm, about farming in the pre- world war two era to learn that people hardly every went to shops.  They thought about what they had and used or ate that swapped with neighbours or bought from the farm gate and presumably market stalls.  There used to be farms in towns as well as in the country don’t forget – that rural/urban separation of agriculture and growing is a more recent development.

Christmas dinner...Oh no!
Finally - it’s time to be planning and buying that Christmas dinner and other paraphernalia again if you haven’t already.  I got two packets of Christmas cards for 50p in a charity shop the other day.  We will probably have fish for new year as there is a giant trout lurking in the freezer and I am saving it specially.  We still have some frozen marzipan from the year before last, plus the home made icing sugar and the final few crackers from two years ago. 

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