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Friday, 7 January 2011


How much of your net income do you spend on food? Exclude from your weekly Tesco bill the booze, the detergents and the DVDs. I reckon mine's about 7%, maybe 8% - and this includes real bacon from Borough Market, unpasteurized cheese and coffee from a French importer, artisan bread and the rest, offset by cooking generally undervalued ingredients, such as the cheap beef shoulder and root vegetables now meltingly part of a glorious winter Pot Au Feu and good for at least three days' dinners. The only supermarket item that's raised an eyebrow recently is the cost of Basmati rice, a tad over £1.50/kg, with a bulk commodity price of £600/tonne or so, within reasonable mark-up terms. Anyway, being honest, a 20% rise in food prices  would still only take my food spend from 7% to just 8.4% ... it's the gearing. High national per capita GNP and smaller populations make nations resilient to food price shocks, whilst low per capita GNP and large populations make them extremely vulnerable. Following the 2008 commodity increases, far more people in poorer nations are now paying 60% - 80% of their net incomes on food, making them extremely vulnerable indeed to future price shocks. 

Somewhere out there must be a clever cartographer who can produce a world projection based on gearing, but for now you'll have to imagine the combination of population size (a close proxy for food consumption) and PC GNP;

Who eats all the Pies? India and China, of course
Per Capita GNP (IMF)
There's a third factor, of course, and that's the land resource each nation has in relation to population - lots of land and low population can indicate a degree of self-sufficiency - Australia and the US are good examples. Conversely, the UK, which has been unable to produce domestically sufficient food since around 1900 and now imports some 50% of all food, remains vulnerable on this score if protectionist measures are taken elsewhere - such as India's prohibition on rice exports. Or if a nation like China with trillions in foreign reserves commits these resources on the market to offset a food price shock. 

The Africans, as always, are buggered. 


Anonymous said...

Another interesting post Radders. I'm making an educated guess here but food was likely much more expensive in relation to income back in the 60s when I was young and my Mum used to "shop local" - because she could. We didn't have any supermarkets in or near our village. The names of "Morrisons"; "Sainsbury's" et all were unheard of to us. There was of course the co-op. Then again, there was Mr. Tullock with his green Morris delivery can who would deliver a cardboard outer of groceries to my Mum's back door.

The purchase of food for the family has changed beyond any recognition and it ain't all bad. New potatoes used to arrive about the same time as strawberries - now you can get them all year round. And for not much money. Pineapple? Forget it. My Mum with my Dad's comparitively good Shell Oil middle-managers salary could not afford a blimmin' pineapple. Its all changed.

There are steps that people can take to mitigate rises but these steps mean using your brain and getting of ones backside. Try Aldi. Make an effort to find out what they (and other less well known supermarkets) can provide that is good. Try different cuts of meat and learn how to cook them properly, like our forebears did. Grow a vegetable patch - like my Dad did.

If food is to rise, then we need to work at mitigating that rise - it can be done!

Coney Island

Anonymous said...

What recipe are you using for the Pot Au Feu?

Raedwald said...

many chins - the simplest!

about 1kg of cheap beef shoulder, rolled, seasoned, in casserole pot with turnip, carrots, onion, parsnip, couple of bay leaves, mustard and 2/3rds covered in stock, low oven ~160 for 2 and a bit hours

Anonymous said...

The Africans, as always, are buggered.

One reason why the AGW tax is required - to prevent starvation and the resulting political upheaval in that sad continent.

As it turned out, a UN spokesman actually admitted that was the main reason for the AGW scam.