Wednesday, 28 December 2011

more about poverty and food

This post is a continuation of my previous post where I am trying to dispel the myth that poor people can't afford to eat healthy food. Zoe Williams stated in a recent Guardian article that a Big Mac is good value for money in terms of calories per penny.

We need a certain number of calories per day. If someone ate 3 Big Macs per day for breakfast, lunch and evening meal they would get 1,770 calories. That would be almost enough for a woman but not a man. Women need 1,940 calories per day and men need 2,550 calories per day. 4 Big Macs a day would give someone 2,360 calories per day. That's kind of an average requirement so let's work with that. 4 Big Macs a day would cost £66.92 a week. Job Seekers Allowance for someone aged 16 to 24 is £53.45, and for someone 25 or over £67.50. So a young person would not be able to afford it and an older person would have 58p left over at the end of the week to spend on everything else. And a man still wouldn't be getting enough calories.

I've just looked on the McDonald's site and it says a Big Mac has 490 calories. I'm sure that I saw somewhere that it has 590. I'm going to have to check that, but if it is 490 that supports my case even better. Here it says it could be 590 or even more.

The more you think about it the more you realise how absurd her advice to poor people is. When I was a child I thought that poor people ate fish and chips. When I became poor I realised I could not afford the fish and that even the chips have to be an occasional treat. You cannot get a bag of chips for less than £1.

It should be obvious that if you cook food at home it is likely to be cheaper than a fast food outlet. They have to pay for staff and premises etc and that comes from the price of the food. These foods tend to be highly advertised, the costs of which can make up a good fraction of the price of the foods.

The processing of food costs a certain amount of money. White rice is barely processed and brown rice not at all. So much so that if you spill some of certain brands of brown rice on the ground it will grow into rice plants (I know I've tried it). Brown rice is more expensive than white rice, but I expect that is because of 'economies of scale'. If people ate as much brown rice as they do white then it might be as cheap or even cheaper.

Meat can never be cheap food. Cheaper forms of meat will come from factory farms where the animals are fed maize and soya, and some wheat and barley. So therefore meat will always be more expensive than maize, soya, wheat and barley. We can eat all these things.

Zoe Williams thinks that people like me 'secretly yearn for a Big Mac'. I am not a vegetarian, although most of my food is vegetarian (vegan in fact). When I want fast food I will have a bacon butty or a salt beef sandwich. I might do that once a week. Big Macs are boring food.

In her article, Zoe Williams mentions the case of a grandmother who fed her grandchildren for five weeks on nothing but eggs, beans, chip and toast. This is supposed to be an example of what poor people can afford. This doesn't really support her argument, however, for two reasons. Firstly, because it's not a particularly bad diet. Secondly, because it is easy to see how the grandmother could have made improvements without additional cost.

This diet is low in saturated fat. Eggs might have cholesterol in them but it doesn't increase blood cholesterol. Eggs are a good source of protein and micronutrients. The main problem is the lack of vegetables and fruit. It is true (as Zoe Williams says) that vegetables don't provide many calories per penny. However, if you use grains to provide most of your calories in the form of starch, then vegetables can bulk it out so you feel fuller. And they have lots of micronutrients. Vegetables are cheap.

There are many ways to cook potatoes. Boiled, baked, mashed, or as bubble-and-squeak. It's not going to cost more to cook your potatoes in different ways each day. Vegetable oil for deep frying usually has too much omega-6 and more calories than you'd want.

By beans, I assume she means baked beans. There are other beans ready cooked from tins. There are many other beans bought dried in packets. There are other pulses like chick peas, peas and lentils. Pulses are high in protein and starch.

Toast is one way to eat wheat. Wheat is consumed in many forms; bread, pasta, couscous, cracked wheat and bulgur. There are other grains, such as rice, maize, oats and barley. Eggs are just one of the cheap ways to get animal protein.

My guess is that the grandmother was putting butter on her toast, in which case it wouldn't have been the low saturated fat diet it might seem. The best quality olive oil is cheaper than even the cheapest butter.

So there is no need for a cheap diet to be a boring one. Or an unhealthy one.

See my table comparing cheapness of foods.

No comments:

Post a Comment