What a disappointing spectacle the United Nations food price conference in Rome is turning into! I naively entertained high hopes, thinking that these world leaders might actually achieve something. But so far it seems to have been upstaged by, of all people, Robert Mugabe.
Of course! Just the guy who can solve the food price crisis, with his own people in Zimbabwe starving because of his actions! Despite an EU travel ban, he has shown up to the conference with his wife Grace. And officials are busy complaining to reporters about his presence, when frankly, while I agree with them, they should be talking about what they’re doing to bring food prices down. There’s also an outcry at the presence of Iranian president Mahmoud Admadinejad, another popular chap. All of which, while fair enough, is getting in the way of the important issues.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is urging leaders to lower import tariffs and export restrictions on food and increase production. And one EU food official is arguing that the ban on feeding animal remains to pigs and chickens should be dropped. This was put in place because of the supposed link to CJD/BSE. He has a valid point in that the grain used as animal feed could be diverted to feed people. And he claims there is no scientific reason not to feed pigs and chickens animal remains. But do you really want to eat pork and poultry fed on this diet? True, our pet chickens will happily chow down on a dead frog or cat food if they get their beaks on it. But it doesn’t make up their whole diet and I’m not sure it’s something to be encouraged. Perhaps you feel differently? Let me know by leaving a comment.
Meanwhile, while we in the rich West aren’t suffering as much as those in the Third World from food price hikes, a European survey out this week shows that food prices rose an average of 7.1 per cent in all 27 EU states between April 2007 and April 2008 – twice the rate of inflation. Dairy product prices soared by 14.9 per cent, while the price of cereals and bread rose by 10.7 per cent. Meat prices are also up 4.1 per cent.
So if the politicians don’t come up with anything helpful, what can we do at ground level to save money on our food shop? This Japanese lady’s approach is a little extreme and obviously illegal! But here are some more practical ideas:
- Plan your meals ahead. Don’t go shopping on a whim but use a list to avoid buying things you won’t eat. Freeze any leftovers or use them as a packed lunch to take to work.
- To save money on meat, use half the quantity of stewing meat for example in a stew and bulk it up with vegetables. If you buy something and don’t use it, make sure you put it in the freezer before the best before date runs out.
- Cook in bulk. Make a big batch of Bolognese or a chilli, for example, bulk it up with veg to stretch it out and then freeze it in portions for a cheap but nutritious home-made ready meal.
- Look for reduced price items in the supermarket which you can freeze. Don’t be tempted just to buy something because it’s on special offer though – think carefully about whether you will use it.
- Shop around. If you have time – and admittedly everyone has – check out local market stalls and farm shops if there are any nearby. Often their fruit and veg is cheaper than the supermarket’s. Show up to the market stalls at the end of the day when they’re packing up and selling off products cheaply.
- Visit local ethnic stores. Sometimes their pulses and grains are much cheaper than the supermarkets’. The couscous for example in my local supermarket is far more expensive than packets I’ve bought in Turkish stores in Harringey.
- Examine your portion sizes. Are you making too much food and throwing it away? Sometimes plate sizes can distort matters and you can end up wasting food and piling on the pounds.
- I’ve bored you to death with it before, and I’ll do it again. If you’re brave enough, and you’ve got a garden or access to outside space which isn’t contaminated by pesticides think about introducing free wild foods into your diet such as dandelions or nettles. But be very careful and make sure you’re 100 per cent sure what you’re eating.
- Consider becoming semi-vegetarian. Meat is expensive and vegetables are often cheap. Plus there are plenty of good cook books in the library to inspire you with tasty recipes.