Irish Food,  Opinion

Cheap Food in Ireland, At What Price?

Loathe as I am to go on one of my rants about cheap food in Ireland; the commentary in media, both classical (radio/television/print) and social has me on my high horse. Cheap food in Ireland, at what price?

I love blogging, I love talking about food, I love cooking good food and yes I do it on a budget. That’s what this site is all about.

I hate detest the following attitudes and these are my reasons why:

You buy cheap crap food what do you expect? 

If I were to buy food with a label saying it contained beef, I’d expect it to contain beef. This food was mislabelled. Imagine if your organic chicken was actually a battery chicken? Despite both being similar products and perfectly edible, I’m pretty sure you’d be upset if you paid for one and discovered another.

We should have some sort of social initiative to teach people proper food skills.

Great idea. Would “we” like to start one? I certainly would, but being a stuck stay at home mother to 2 small children, living on a tight budget, I might have the knowledge to organise things but time and money are in short supply, including childcare.  In the meantime I’ll have to make do with sharing my know-how on the internet.  What would you do? Where would you start? With children? See below….

Bring in Home Economics as a compulsory subject in schools for all pupils.

Between different programmes in schools and Bord Bia initiatives such as the brilliant FoodDudes there are a number of schemes to introduce children to good food. I would far rather see a more practical and hands on lifeskills learning in school to include growing your own food, cooking from scratch (properly), household management, childcare, study skills, and budgeting.

Regardless what about the children who are nearly finished school? What about the parents who are lacking skills right now?

It’s cheaper to cook good food from scratch than it is to buy convenience foods.

No it’s ruddy not.

It takes a considerable amount of time, effort and energy to cook from scratch. You also need to know what you’re doing. When faced with a meat pie in the local supermarket which cooks in 25 minutes and contains 505 calories, or making your own which takes approximately 2 hours (if you’re a decent home cook), costs more, requires several food skills, and you have very little time in the first place, what would you do?

Organising your life around decent food for your family when you’re working fulltime is hard work, just ask Bumbles of Rice.  I struggle with it sometimes and I’m at home all the time, albeit busy with several other projects.  Some days I spend 30% of my day just cooking food for the family, nevermind the extra time photographing and blogging.

I already spoke a little a lot about this in my Wholesome Bites last Friday:


Let’s take the Horse/Mislabelled burgers and give them to those in need.

Faced with the choice would you eat them yourself?  Instead let’s make them available at a discount to anybody who wants to buy them, rather than making them there just for charity.

If the consumer didn’t look for cheap food then we wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.

I hope the person who makes this statement is feeling comfortable up in their ivory tower.  Very few people set out to buy crap or cheap food.  To quote a proverb “you cut your cloth”, and if that cloth is cut to the thread then you do what you can with what’s left. The demand for cut-price food is due to a combination/balancing act of:

  1. Grocery budgets being driven downwards by less and less spending money after essential bills are paid for.
  2. Lack of food knowledge and ability to cook from scratch.
  3. Time poverty.

Fellow food blogger & new to me, North South Food wrote an outstanding piece in the Observer Food Monthly yesterday on how difficult it is to feed yourself well on a budget.

The Frontline on RTÉ1 tonight will cover the cost of cheap food with a distinguished panel of experts; Darina Allen, Professor Patrick Wall, Minister Simon Coveney and Conor Pope.  I will record it and watch it tomorrow but I suspect they may not spend a lot of time on the real reason for the demand for cheap food in Ireland.  If they do I will happily amend this blog post to reflect the coverage.

In the meantime I’m off to watch the special edition Great British Bake Off Series as I have a minor addiction to all things baked and frankly I need cheering up.  Honestly the media (social and traditional) coverage of cheap food and the attitudes have me very depressed.

Were it not for North South Food’s fantastic article yesterday, and some very much appreciated support from the lovely Trish Deseine, my blogging mood would be in my boots.

These are not just “some people” who are eking out their food-lives on a budget, they are your friends, neighbours and quite possibly your family members. A little bit of empathy and thought would not go astray for many.

Cheap food in Ireland, at what price?

I'm an Irish mother to 2 boys, born & bred in Dublin, Ireland. I like to cook simple & fresh food for the family, with the family on a budget.


  • Lorna Sixsmith

    but grocery food is essential shopping is it not?

    The price of fertiliser / meal etc means that the price of meat has to go up. If the consumer is demanding cheap food and the supermarkets feel they have to meet it, they are providing the consumer with what they want by creating short cuts, in this case, fillers which contain horse meat. It was an accident that shouldn’t have happened,.

    I don’t agree that good food is more expensive than convenience food. I made a veggie stew last week from the Herbi Carni blog recipe and it probably cost no more than €4 for 4 of us and I made soup out of the leftovers the next day. It took me half an hour to make it. However, I wouldn’t live on it everyday. Yes, families have to live on a budget and can’t spend hours slaving over the stove but people have to recognise that good food can’t be produced quickly or cheaply

    As I’m sure you would advocate, we are what we eat.

    Yes, if I buy something labelled beef, I expect it to contain beef – that is why Ireland puts a huge emphasis on the traceability of beef and lamb. I just wish we could be as thorough with our chicken!

    The media coverage is driving me mad too and let’s face it, the horse meat is not going to kill anyone – I’d be more worried about the additives in those fillers.

    • Wholesome Ireland

      Hi Lorna!

      Yes grocery shopping is essential spending. I’d say budget for your groceries and utilities first, then everything else second. Even at that we have fixed costs that are going up, just like the price of feed – so that includes energy & fuel, taxes (car etc), child benefit going down, the cost of servicing the mortgage. At the end of paying all of these things I’m left with my grocery amount. So that’s my flexible amount. It’s what I can pinch to pay for other stuff like bin charges – so that reduces the amount of grocery spending I have.

      The reason why the consumer demands cheap food from the supermarket and why the supermarket continues to drive costs down to meet it is symbiotic – they both feed off one another so to speak. We all know of at least 1 big retailer which has a dreadful business model when dealing with food producers. It’s like a race to the bottom, how little can you spend on food per week & how little can you pay a supplier for food?

      Producing good food cheaply requires skills, knowledge and time. Although if you have a slow cooker it does help. For the likes of us who have a very active interest in quality food then it’s not a huge challenge. For somebody with little or no cookery skills and limited time then it’s a mountain to climb. It’s simpler to stick a pizza in the oven and wait for the timer to go off. It’s not what I choose to do but I can understand why people do it.

  • Jane Barry

    Excellent post Caitriona, I think a key component is a lack of cooking know how. If you’re an accomplished cook not only is it easier to manage on a tight budget but you have a better palate and eat a better variety of food too.

  • Imen McDonnell

    You’ve covered a lot here Catriona! I agree on all accounts….especially that people who are time starved struggle to make things from scratch. It’s been and STILL can be a challenge for me to make nearly everything from scratch as I was fairly used to grabbing things on the run, but I don’t have a lot of choice living so remotely.. even the quick cheap choices seem un-eatable to be honest. I decided might as well just grow and make things on my own, but I work from home and have more time so it makes sense. Of course, I worry about the prices that the farmers get for as hard as they work more than anything. Anyway, great post…I am rambling now. Would love to chat about this over tea one day. All Best, Imen x

    • Wholesome Ireland

      As you know the kettle is always on Imen! I guess you and I are incredibly lucky to be able to invest some of our time into growing for and feeding our families well. Somedays I find it difficult at home but it’s good to have a reminder. Thanks. x

  • Liana Drummond

    I think a proportion of the demand for cheap food also comes from people
    that, in fact, just want a fix rather than a nutritious meal. It may be
    difficult to imagine (for me at least as I love food, eating, cooking,
    talking and thinking about it!) but many people just don’t care that
    much about what they eat, as long as it fills them up. Few will admit to
    it, but that’s what I see a lot of…

    • Wholesome Ireland

      Yes! For “foodies” food is so much more than simple sustenance. I guess it makes it more difficult to understand other perspectives when you love food so much. Mind you as another foodie put it to me this morning, if you use food as a fuel it doesn’t mean that you should put cheap, dirty diesel into your body/car. It’ll ruin your vehicle nonetheless.

  • Maud

    You only have to look at the USA’s obesity crisis to see that processed, “instant” food is cheaper than food you take time to shop for and prepare from scratch. It’s the poor people who are worst affected, because you can feed your kids on McDonalds and Twinkies in zero time and with very little money – and that’s exactly what they’ve got.

  • Laura

    Every day I say to myself- ‘To afford it, I should eat less, but better’. That doesn’t stop me turning to the fish fingers when my babs rejects her 2hr-long-made-from-scratch-something-or-other. It also doesn’t stop me craving package goods when I haven’t got time to make a nice lunch for myself, never mind eating it. Anyway… One day I will follow through with that wish.

    • Wholesome Ireland

      It is incredibly difficult to shun processed foods I agree. I so know all about those picky kids who won’t eat what you prepare. If it’s any consolation, it does get better. Promise!

      • kathryn

        Had to keep my mouth closed tight when my DIL told her that she would make sure that her children always ate a full range of home cooked nutritious food. Didn’t open it until it was time to reassure her that things would get better. I reckon Eve had the same theory and the same failure. But at least they’ll know the difference when they grow up – and probably be able to cook the good stuff too so that they too can savour the joys of refections

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