The cost of food

The cost of food

Regular readers will know that my youngest son has just moved to London. He was disturbed to find that with beer costing over five quid a pint and most casual work paying less than a tenner an hour, London, and realistically any large modern city, is expensive for youngsters.

You could see the maths bouncing around in his head. Rent, food, travel, phone and beer essentials would be hard to squeeze out of a tenner an hour.

It’s a motivator for sure. True independence is a demanding master that builds strength and character in most. It even has the power to remove beer from the list of life’s essentials.

Just imagine for a moment if the item on the list that consumes half your income is food. Not the occasional 5 in 10, but half of everything you earn.

Each week the cost of basic foodstuffs to keep you and your family from going hungry takes up 50 cents of every dollar earned. Harsh you would think.

There is not much left for the other essentials on the list.

And if your rent is steep too, maybe 25 cents in the dollar, any financial buffer is a layer of paint thin. All the time there would be difficult decisions to make on what to do with the remaining 25 cents from buying power for cooking to school uniforms for the kids.

In many parts of the world, people face this problem every day. They must use a big slice of their income just to secure nourishment. It is a precarious existence when such a basic need takes up half your resources.

But here is the kicker.

What happens when food prices double?

If the price of food doubles buying food uses all your income. I’ll just say that again because it might take a while to sink in. If the price of food doubles buying food uses all your income.

This has happened, most recently across much of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and nearby countries due to a drought that originated in the Indian Ocean Dipole.

Remarkably, people find solutions to this calamity. They eat less and find cheaper foods. They grow more of their own. They work harder and lean on support networks. They survive.

But they should not have to.

There are enough calories produced in farms across the world to feed everyone. For every individual praying for the price spike to end there is an overweight or obese counterpart in another country.

Here is an idea.

What about a global food safety net? Let’s say a FAO, World Bank collaboration to purchase a reserve of calories each year to ensure that the supply curve does not dip too far for the more than 5 billion people who live on less than $10 a day.

If everyone living in a country where the weekly food bill is less than 15% of family income contributed the price of a UK pint a week, such a fund would have more than enough annuity to deliver food security for everyone.

And how would we persuade people to give up their beer money?

Remind them that what hungry people do is move to find food — think about it.