It’s difficult to believe it, but Irish consumers spend less of their weekly disposable income on food compared to all other EU member states.
Yes, that is right, according to Eurostat, Irish shoppers spend less than 10% on food and non-alcoholic beverages.
This week many Irish food companies are in Dubai attending Gulf Food as part of a trade mission led by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue. I have been to many of these food shows in Europe and Asia over the years and it is difficult not to feel a sense of pride when you see the “Irish stand”.
We are the self-styled “food island” exporting to all corners of the globe. And it is not just beef and dairy products.
Smaller artisan food companies have also been making waves in markets across the globe in addition to the huge success stories of brands such as Kerrygold and Baileys.
It is hardly surprising considering how cheap it is to buy vegetables in the multiple discounters
But back home, the work of the food producers that have helped make those companies succeed in competitive markets is far from valued it seems. In recent weeks we have been hearing how difficult it is for Irish vegetable growers to survive and it is believed that there are fewer than 100 commercial growers left.
It is hardly surprising considering how cheap it is to buy vegetables in the multiple discounters. There are so many questions and issues at play here and caught in the crosshairs are farmers.
We have always demanded high standards and they are going to be even higher in order to meet imminent binding national and EU climate targets.
Those of us that work daily in the agrifood bubble may find it difficult to comprehend how we are spending less than a third of what we used to on the weekly shop. But obviously there are consumers – for a variety of reasons – that place price over provenance when filling their shopping basket. And don’t the retailers know this well as they shame us with daily adverts of their unbeatable bargains.
For a country which was ravaged by famine, at what point do we collectively begin to appreciate the preciousness and value of locally produced fresh food again?
Heating the family home or filling the car with fuel has suddenly replaced the COVID-19 crisis in the newspaper headlines
Granted there are families living on the poverty line who are thankful for cheap food. But should that come at the farmers’ expense? They must weep when they walk into a discounter store to see their produce on sale for less than a euro.
And now to add into the mix, we have high inflation and the standoff with Russia. Heating the family home or filling the car with fuel has suddenly replaced the COVID-19 crisis in the newspaper headlines.
All of the time running parallel to this is the climate crisis which urgently requires a change in the way food is produced. That will come at a financial cost, but the big prize is a cleaner environment and protection of biodiversity. To help achieve this, the EU is demanding greater organic production and steering citizens towards a more plant-based diet.
But the system is broken. On the one hand we are demanding better ethics when it comes to how our food is produced – which includes sourcing more local produce and reducing air miles. Yet our local vegetable growers are going out of business and we are spending less and less of our income on quality food. It simply doesn’t add up. You could argue that much of the flux comes back to the fact that as we move another generation away from the land, the less we appreciate the value of food.
It has been reported that Manchester United players have been banned from taking their dogs out for a walk. It is because they keep losing their leads!