Food for Thought

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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11 Responses to Food for Thought

  1. lynette says:

    Very good article, really agree with all you say.    Would add, some of the better supermarkets have some "own" make products which are much cheaper and just as good as the branded ones.    I rely heavily on some of them, and have been pleased with the quality.

  2. Christine says:

    Don\’t be scared to visit places like Aldi and Lidl if these are in your area. And try some of the simple vegetarian recipes you can find hereBit of grow your own for salad ideas here. When making salads you can include a few small nasturtium leaves amongst the greens – yes you know those flowers in the garden – been doing it since a child and I\’m still here to tell the tale. Don\’t use too many but they do add a bit of spice. Once you have a few going nasturtiums you can leave them to self seed so that you have them available year after year. Try growing your own cress on the window ledge and if you can acquire a few tubs second hand or as presents with some soil why not grow rocket, salad leaves and a few herbs such as mint and marjoram at the front door. You can buy a packet of seeds for things like rocket, coriander, salad leaves, radishes and cress and sow a few at a time to use. Then sow a few more when you have used all the first lot. I\’ve looked at the prices in the supermarket for all of these this morning – yikes! Once you have a cheap supply of salad extras you can create cheap snacks (salad sarnie for lunch – quick salad for supper). Pick up a few cheap outdoor herbs at the garden centre for tubs if you have the space. You can dry your own or just use fresh from year to year. A simple vegetable stew with fresh herbs can be a banquet. Not all of us have ethnic stores outside the cities you know Piper – I can\’t think of one within 30 miles of my flat. We aren\’t all city dwellers – some of us are very rural!!

  3. Christine says:

    I\’ve found it cheaper since my fridge/freezer broke and I replaced it with a simple fridge. I now buy rather more often fresh and don\’t use the rather more expensive frozen products. It has cut down on my power use, saved problems when there are power cuts (defrosting the full freezer – nightmare!) and allowed me to take advantage of late reductions. There is only 1 person in my household and there are no real savings in buying in bulk food wise for1. Doesn\’t apply in the case of cleaning products mind – just the same as everyone with those – just that the bulk lasts longer.

  4. rik says:

    Nothing wrong with no.8, more people should try it, how many folks pull up "weeds". They grow themselves if you leave them to it and lets face it, all the veg you eat at one time grew wild!

  5. Karen Jennifer says:

    Thanks for all your tips on the frugal life. I have regular visitors at the weekends and I stretch meals bymeals by growing my own veggies at the bootom of my garden and by keeping chickens. Therereally is no comparise to home grown veg and a good, fresh egg beats anything in the supermarket. Nothing goes to waste in our house – leftover meat and fish are given to the dog and cat. Salad,cabbage leaves, damaged or brusied fruit and vegetables go to the rabbit and the two rats and the chickens love pasta, rice, potato peelings and anything else there is going to waste. The lady at the local corner shop saves me the fruit and veg that is unsellable and this also goes to the rabbit, rats and chickens. I have recently started selling off unwanted plants from my garden.I have a plethora of foxgloves and rather than just pulling them up I potted them and stuck them on my front wall with a sign and a small pot for money. I have already made £1.40 this way and plan to do the same with some of my other plants.Karen

  6. rik says:

    Careful with the foxgloves Karen, they\’re more poisonous than most folks think! 😉

  7. nicky says:

    Another tip from a friend of mine was to use porridge oats to bulk up a stew, whether it be meat or vegetable. I would also say that not all of us have time to visit markets. I have six children, including a 1 and a 3 year old and a grandchild with a self-employed husband who is trying to finish the extension on our house in his "spare!" time. We don\’t have any family help as my parents are elderly, my mother-in-law is undergoing treatment for cancer and we are only children. I do my shopping "online" to save time and reduce my carbon footprint. I will get around to ordering organically, but trotting around on a whim, is not an option in my household!

  8. piper says:

    Hello there! Thanks for all these tips.
    You are quite right about not having the time to shop around. Have just noticed a missed out word in the blog entry – it should say "admitted NOT everyone has the time to shop around" and not "admittedly everyone has the time" as I stupidly put. Silly me!

  9. C says:

    I agree with the EU official who said that grain used as animal feed could be diverted to feed humans – but instead of feeding pigs and hens chopped up bits of other animals which could cause a whole plethora of problems, why not just eat the grain and leave out the meat? That would be a much more efficient use of resources!

  10. ron says:

    I am a product of the last war and i can remember we had chickens for thier eggs fed on table scraps potatoe peelings boiled and mixed with bran they were eaten at the end of thier useful life and a cockerel was kept to fertilise the eggs so we could raise replacements,people who didnt have poultry would put out there table waste fot the local pigman to collect with school and restaurantwaste as well. and that would be boiled up mixed with bran and fed to his pigs granddad kept rabbits fed from the local hedgerow so we occassionaly had tame rabbit for dinner.Most of these practises are now banned under EU rules. but for goodness sake bring them back

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