Healthy food only goes up and up

2015-08-18 06:00

The price of healthy food is rising and it’s those most in need of a nutritious meal who have to tighten their belts.

The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy recently released a report, Agricultural outlook, which found that a healthy food basket – a selection of food representing daily nutritional recommendations and food purchasing patterns – has only increased in cost since 2008.

For a family of four the most affordable healthy eating plan increased by 63% over this period, to now cost over R3000 a month.

Dr Jane Battersby-Lennard, research coordinator of the consuming urban poverty project at UCT’s African Centre for Cities, found that in three low-income areas of Cape Town 80% of households were “food insecure”.

Coping with less“Households make a series of choices. First they will buy cheaper versions of what they already eat, if they are not eating the most basic to start with. They will then reduce the dietary diversity and switch to buying foods that are calorie dense and will fill you up, reduce meal sizes, reduce the number of meals, allocate food in households to those deemed most important, and ultimately go without,” she says.

“Households are contesting with a set of other price increases at the same time, with electricity and transport being the most important ones. Often these costs can’t be avoided and so households will sacrifice food and nutrition in order to meet these needs.”

From 2011 to April this year, the cost of the healthy eating plan increased by 36%, a faster rate than general inflation, the report found.

The Bureau found during research, published in 2012, that for a household to consume a “balanced daily food plate” of food, it would have to have an income of about R5630 monthly.

However, according to the census in 2011, Battersby-Lennard says, a high proportion of households do not make that much money.

“This places a very high proportion of metropolitan households in a position of vulnerability. Upper income household are also affected. We have been told, for example, that Woolworths has noticed that their meat sales profile has shifted to less red meat and more chicken. We are all being hit by food prices,” she says.

“We need to be asking why food prices are beyond the reach of most South Africans to eat healthily. Things like supporting household and community food gardening have their place, but let’s try and think a little bit broader.”

There needs to be more of a public awareness about the problems in the food system and more civil society engagement, Battersby-Lennard says.

“The right to food is a constitutional right in South Africa, but hardly anyone is aware of this, and even fewer are involved in the efforts to get the State to take this right seriously,” she says.

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