What Drives Our Food Choices?
The OECD say that the share of people feeling that they cannot afford food has climbed to 10%. As I detailed in my recent blogpost, if you cannot afford food, there is little structure in place for those who find themselves going hungry. If you do not want to seek assistance from a religious organisation, your options are further limited.
What is interesting from a food point of view is that while 10% of Irish people feel they cannot afford food, it is likely that even more of our population are at nutritional poverty (meaning they can afford food but are not eating or cannot afford a healthy balanced diet). It is also worth noting that there is a chance that those who feel they are in food poverty may not be, due to the food choices they take.
To shop, cook, serve and clean up after a meal takes time. During the boom times we became a “cash-rich, time-poor” society. We are still a “time-poor” society. It’s not just families where parents are working outside of the home who struggle with time to cook. Dishes that take a long time to cook also use up more amounts of energy and consequently put more pressure on the household finances.
Funds in the bank bring choices. When you are on a small grocery budget your choices are limited. In our house we tend to buy similar ingredients every week and then change our menus by making the most of herbs and spices. If we had more money I would be able to make the choice to buy better cuts of meat and more quality ingredients. The ability to make choices isn’t limited to just food, it’s the standard of the cooking utensils and the amount of energy I can use cooking.
If you don’t have the necessary cooking skills then you will struggle to serve up a healthy meal to your family. Compound a lack of ability with a lack of money and you may decide to serve up a cheap frozen pizza. Add a lack of ability to plenty of money and you may decide to buy a take-away or a premium convenience pizza costing way more than the frozen option.
It’s worth noting that if you are physically unable to cook because of ill health or a lack of working appliances then you’ll also struggle to eat well on a budget.
How Can Things Improve?
In my personal experience the biggest factor that needs to be tackled is not access to quality food or the money to make the choice to buy quality food. Even if we had a structured food bank system in place, it would only be a sticking plaster that wouldn’t fix the bigger issue.
We don’t need celebrity chefs to show us how to cook, nor do we need well intentioned finger pointing and sensationalist criticism of families who are trying to do their darned best when times are hard. The concept of increasing food education in the classroom is laudable and can only be a good thing but also will not solve the transfer of skills and alter our eating habits.
The transfer of skills to cook needs to be on a peer-to-peer basis.
Many of us learned to cook this way; at our mother’s knee, in the kitchen, at the table. As parents we are primary educators and we have the primary responsibility to teach our children about food; how to grow it, cook it and eat well.
Communities need champions. These are people who know how to cook and who are prepared to pass on the skills without judgement for the benefit of the future. Almost every secondary school in the country is equipped with Home Economics kitchens that lie empty in the evenings. Why not use these kitchens to hold free community based training?
The advantages of teaching the existing generation are significant. Why wait for another generation to go through the schooling system and the existing generation’s food choices will put them at greater risk of obesity and heart disease and ultimately put more pressure and cost on our creaking health system?
Looking for Blue Sky
This is such a huge subject. I think that time, ability and money are not the only factors. Especially when it comes to children there’s food fads, allergies, intolerances, TV ads, choice of shops, food choices of the wider family, friends and peer group. They all play a role in determining what families buy. Like many Mums, I had great plans that my kids would eat healthily, and they all began that way. Only Smiley does now, and she would still choose chocolate over anything else!
Oh I agree it’s a huge subject. The 3 main factors though are those that are mentioned above. Choice of shops, food choices and food fads are ultimately driven by money which defines how much you access them for example. On healthy eating, we all try our best. They would happily eat junkfood here on a daily basis if I let them!
A tough question…