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Delicious, Disgusting, Dangerous: Eating in a Time of Food Price Volatility

Each year, the Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility research project tracks global, national and local food prices and their effects on everyday life, and selects a special topic for focused research.  Published on 3 November 2015, Delicious, disgusting, dangerous: eating in a time of food price volatility is the third synthesis report, and this year it turns the spotlight on to changes in diet. Food price movements in the ten countries during 2014 generally displayed lower levels of volatility than in recent years, but there continue to be often quite marked seasonal changes, largely linked with the level of national food availability. The generally downward trend in international cereal prices was not uniformly mirrored in each of the countries, although some countries, for example Bolivia, Burkina Faso and Vietnam, did mostly experience falling prices. In all countries for which data were available, however, annual food inflation and general inflation continue at levels (commonly between 6–8 per cent) that create hardship for market-dependent low-income households. In all countries, the cost of the minimum food basket continues to be well above the five-year average, which reinforces the view that the struggle to cope with high food prices is a long-term reality, which has not diminished just because food price increases have recently been less dramatic. The need for effective action to enhance resilience and reduce the negative effects of food price changes is as pressing as ever.

There has been a marked change in what people are eating, directly and indirectly influenced by the effects of food price volatility. Even in places where malnourishment is common, considerations of time, convenience, novelty, taste, safety and status competing with objective assessments of nourishment in shaping what food people choose to buy. Increasingly people evaluate their consumption choices in terms of value and that value may have many dimensions that are not just about the nutritional quality of food.

The report considers that people are feeling a loss of control over what they are eating. Concerns about the content of foods available on the market are widespread. With this in mind, the report considers governments and donors need to consider three courses of action: 1. Preserving and promoting customary food cultures and providing trustworthy information about new food choices; 2. Building public health regimes that promote nutrition and question fortification when it is a poor substitute for better quality food; 3. Upgrading food safety regimes so they are seen to tackle issues of unhygienic and dangerous foods.

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9 November 2015

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