Tuesday, 20 November 2012

nutritional recession hits the UK

On the front page of the Guardian yesterday there was the headline Britain in nutritional recession as rising prices toke toll on diet. The sub-heading was Low-income households shun fresh fruit and veg for processed foods.

The first paragraph of the article said this:-
Austerity Britain is experiencing a nutritional recession, with rising food prices and shrinking incomes driving up the consumption of fatty foods, reducing the amount of fruit and vegetables we buy, and condemning people on the lowest incomes to an increasingly unhealthy diet.
I don't doubt that poorer people are eating more high-fat and processed foods, and fruit and vegetable consumption has dropped. Readers of this blog will know that I dispute the idea that high-fat and processed foods are cheap. This isn't my opinion, anyone can look at the facts. It is easy to calculate the number of calories per penny for a number of foods.

The Guardian has made the claim that poor people can't afford healthy food several times over the years. The mistake they are making is setting up a false dichotomy between fruit and vegetables on the one hand and high-fat processed foods on the other hand. The most important type of food for poorer people should be the starchy staples eg rice, pasta, bread, porridge. These should provide the bulk of the calories consumed. These are by far the cheapest type of food. A kilo of long-grain rice costs 40p. A bowl of rice costs 4 or 5p to make. This type of food isn't even mentioned in the Guardian.

The other thing that is wrong is that, even if you consider vegetables on a calories per penny basis, they are not more expensive than high-fat and processed foods. Sainsbury's sell a bag of mixed vegetables that work out around 4 calories per penny. A Mac Donald's cheeseburger is around 3.5 calories per penny and a Big Mac around 2.5. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious and more convenient to use than fresh. If you are eating vegetables you don't need fruit as well.