‘I can’t afford good food’ is a common and understandable statement I hear frequently among peers. At the end of the month it is tempting, and frequently necessary, to cut corners on food bills to balance our outgoings. Often this will lead to cutting out fresh and organic produce in favour of convenience and price. I’ve done it myself – the thrill of ‘yellow sticker shopping’, a 99p pizza and dinner sorted.
In 1957, we spent 33 per cent of our household income on food, a nice round one third of our income. In 2018, this figure was 10 per cent.
There are myriad reasons one could argue why reducing our weekly outgoings to 10 per cent has had a positive, transformative impact on our standard of living, but I’m calling your bluff; our health, wealth and happiness are spiralling downwards and we’re all looking for someone, or something, to blame.
So why did we suddenly start spending so little on food? In essence, we’ve had to rebalance our budgets to cater for higher rents, increasing fuel prices and societal pressures around consumerism and materialism. This has forced down our allocated budget on food and drink to record lows.
Looking again at last year’s figures: our average weekly household expenditure in the UK was £572.60. Of this figure, £60.60 was spent on food and non-alcoholic drinks (10.7 per cent). Broken down even further, only £4.20 was spent on fresh vegetables compared to £6.00 on biscuits, cake, buns and chocolate.
Forget for a moment the statistic of spending 10 per cent on food and drink and ponder what brings us happiness, fulfilment and joy. The simple pleasure of using our hands, turning simple ingredients into something magical; learning, creating, sharing. Preparing a good meal has everything we need to achieve a higher state of health and wellbeing.
Some of my most precious childhood memories revolve around a sunday roast; all the family sat round the table, everyone helping scrubbing the veg – even with the beef a bit dry, roasties a bit burnt – they are memories that stick.
I fear without significant change we could be sleepwalking into an Americanised, dystopian world with our food and drink consumption. Everything mass produced by corporations, plastic wrapped, soulless and tasteless.
There is a huge sense of wellbeing that comes from caring more about food and spending time cooking and eating it, but valuing food in this way also means we are more likely to spend more on ethical supply chains, higher welfare meat, organic food or direct to farmer models - if we have the means. Reconnecting with what we eat could also mean sustainability for our food systems.
Can we simply steal from the Italians? They see food as their identity, a friend and even a work of art. In doing so, it filters into the minutiae of their culture. Americans, however, seem to view food as an enemy. Food is seen as the catalyst to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and the cause of an epidemic, rather than the solution.
So how do we make a change that matters? It is idealistic and fanciful to assume we can all suddenly spend an extra 23 per cent of our earnings on food. But a simple mindset change and recognising the true value of food could help rebalance how we spend our hard-earned cash.
Practical (and flavourful) guidelines to rebalance your food bills:
- Buy offal
- Slow cook
- Buy root veg; cheaper to buy – roast low and slow
- Season liberally, it can transform meals
- Plant tomatoes
- Make soup
- Buy (or make) good stock
- Cut out food that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise
Practical (and liberating) guidelines to rebalance your finances:
- Turn off your heating! Blankets are far cosier
- Dominate your bills: shave, cut, question and reduce
- Don’t buy things on finance, buy what you can afford outright
- Save a bit for a rainy day
- Question your purchases: will this product add value to my life?
- Repair clothes rather than replace
- Stop consuming – start creating!