Monday, 30 September 2013

instant noodles

I listened to the recent episode of Thinking Allowed on Radio 4. Laurie Taylor was talking to Deborah Gewertz about her book on instant noodles.

She had this to say.
"... they will allow poor people to be sustained in contexts of extreme poverty. I would very much like a world in which extreme poverty did not exist but it does and it looks like it's going to get worse as the population of the world increases to 9 to 10 billion by 2050 and the question that we contemplate in our book is how are these people going to be fed. Of course we would love it if people had healthy food to eat but since it's not likely that poverty will decrease instant noodles will remain a proletarian hunger killer."
The problem with this is that if you do the calculation and work out how many calories per penny instant noodles provide then it isn't much compared to other foods.

Tesco Everyday Value chicken flavour instant noodles cost 15p for a 65g pack that has 260 calories.
Lidl long-grain white rice costs 40p for 1kg and has 3,510 calories.
Lidl organic whole-grain farfalle costs 99p for 500g and has 1,685 calories.

instant noodles: about 17 kcals/p
rice: about 88 kcals/p
organic whole-grain pasta: about 17 kcals/p

This means that rice provides more than 5 times the number of calories per penny as instant noodles, whereas the very much healthier organic whole-grain pasta is slightly cheaper. So it is wrong for Deborah Gewertz to state that poor people can't afford to eat healthier food than instant noodles. It is not only wrong but it is misleading people into making poor choices about how to feed their families and keep them healthy.

It is possible that instant noodles may be cheaper in some parts of the world than in Britain, but I wouldn't expect the relative price of instant noodles and rice to be much different. I think since writing this the cost of Tesco noodles is now 20p which makes them even less value for money. Looking at the information on the back of packets of noodles, it does seem that there is some confusion over how many calories they have. I'm going on the information provided on the Tesco site. It may turn out that instant noodles may be a bit cheaper than organic whole-grain pasta, but there is no doubt they are more expensive than rice.
instant noodles
Deborah Gewertz is one of many people who believe that unhealthy food is cheapest, and that's why poor people eat it. They all seem to disagree on what it is that poor people are condemned to eat. She believes that it is instant noodles. Danish food writer Katrine Klinken believes that is it cheese and butter. Zoe Williams and some of her fellow Guardian journalists believe it is burgers and crisps. They have all got it wrong, and it is easy to show that this is true. Just by looking at the facts. If anyone deserves to be likened to Marie Antoinette it is these three women, not people like me.

They seem to believe that poverty in Britain today is the same as poverty in Britain decades ago or poverty in countries like India today. It isn't. Nobody today is in the same situation as mining families in the 1920s. The problem with all these people is that they have to believe in one extreme or the other. There are some people who believe that poor people are totally responsible for the situation they find themselves in. They tend to be on the right of the Conservative Party. Then there are others who believe in the exact opposite, that poor people have absolutely no control over what happens to them whatsoever. They tend to be on the left of the Labour Party. They think poor people are victims, and that to suggest there are ways to eat more healthily and spend less money is blaming the victim.

The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes. We can all learn more about nutrition. We can all learn what we need to eat and what we can cut back on.