“The index is insufficient. The short chain is the most attractive option in our food offer’

“To tackle the relationship between purchasing power and food not only in the short term, a completely different way of producing, transporting and consuming is required,” writes Patricia Adriaens, CEO of Fribona (Frozen Food Convenience), in the name of the think tank’s logic. Read all other contributions from our summer series here The thinkers from Knack.be: Where should we go with our money?

On Saturdays I always help with the food distribution of the Open Balie in Bruges. It strikes me that the lines of people queuing for food are getting longer and longer. People are always grateful that they get food for a whole week. Vegetables, dairy products, bread: everything is received with great thanks. They pay 1 euro for a meal that they eat on the spot.

For some visitors, even that is too much.

This is of course a symbolic euro, rather intended as an expression of respect for what they receive. Not just the meal itself, but the encounters that arise from it are important. Although everyone has their own backpack of problems from home, it seems to disappear here for a while and there is great mutual solidarity. This is also felt among the group of volunteers: they are happy that they can do something for the less fortunate. Doing good to others often works both ways. You get recognition and joy in return.

Compared to June 2021, we see many significant price increases for food. Incidentally, it is almost always the same product categories that become more expensive month after month.
Dairy products, meanwhile, have become 12.94 percent more expensive. Besides butter (+27.5%), the biggest risers are low-fat milk (+21%), young cheese (Gouda) (16.3%), ground Emmentaler (+14.3%) and eggs (+13.5%).

In the fish department, you are on average 11.4% more expensive and for poultry it is even more than 15%. For groceries, you now pay an average of 11.4% more, with peaks for pasta (+34.3%) and frying oil (+29.5%). We also see big price increases in olive oil (+20.8%), ground coffee (+20.4%), mayonnaise (+20.2%), mustard (+16.3%) and even tomatoes (24.6%) ) has become more expensive.

We need to keep an eye on the price of these goods to preserve the purchasing power of everyone, but especially those with the lowest incomes who have to spend a large part of their income on these products.

Meanwhile, the food banks get less and less food. The supermarkets no longer have a profit because there are simply fewer goods in the shops due to the war in Ukraine. In itself, it is good that there is less food left, that less is thrown away and that the supply is somewhat more limited. But of course it plays a role for the food banks.

The index always comes later than inflation. Meanwhile, it’s hard for some to keep their heads above water. In addition, this measure encourages the highest wages to cash in the most. That’s why I favor indexes in cents instead of percentages. If your salary is already low, indexing at 1 percent won’t have much of an effect compared to someone who earns a lot. We must prevent low-wage workers from ending up in poverty. Today, the government already has too few resources to help people in poverty. We must therefore prevent this group from growing at all costs.

The index as it exists today is therefore decidedly inadequate. What could be a possible part of the solution is the short food chain. In general, there should be a growing awareness that short food chain the most attractive option is in the food offering. The economic picture of these local products must change. It pays to invest in this as a government. I give some reasons for this.

Firstly, by focusing on local production, we have greater security for a stable supply. If we remain largely dependent on foreign countries, uncertainty and costs will increase. Just think of the war situation in Ukraine, which makes us realize that for strategic reasons it is best to keep and support our own agriculture to avoid less speculative prices, mainly for wheat and sunflower oil.

Also, eating non-local food is becoming more and more expensive. Until recently, transport costs from low-wage countries were cheap, but this is now changing completely. This is one of the reasons why basic food is becoming more expensive. It is therefore high time that we produce and process our food as close to home as possible, also at cost price. In terms of health, local production also plays a role. A further danger of the rise in food prices is that people will turn to cheaper and unhealthy products such as pizzas, frikandels and crisps. Healthy food ensures lower healthcare costs, which would otherwise take an extra large bite out of the budget.

Investing in local production therefore pays off and reduces poverty.

We should also improve our eating habits. By wanting to eat everything all year round, regardless of the seasons, food becomes expensive to very expensive. Growing greenhouses in our own country, importing from distant countries so that we can serve whatever we want on our plate 24/7 is no added value, neither in terms of ecology, vitamins nor taste. Switching to local and seasonal or frozen products can limit the steep price increases.

So we have to go back to the roots and think about our eating habits. It is not only up to the government to go this route, but also up to us as consumers.

Allocations

There are already many local initiatives that draw attention to the importance of the short food chain. I am thinking, for example, of the allotment gardens in medium to large cities, which also give people without gardens the opportunity to grow their own vegetables and fruits.

This concept is increasingly supported by the city councils themselves. In Leuven, for example, created around 48 new allotments. For people who cannot have and work in the kitchen garden themselves, there are also the social merchants. These are local shops that offer vegetables and other basic products to those who are struggling financially.

Urban agriculture is on the rise in all cities.

In Brussels, FOODMET was e.g. opened in 2015: The former Abbatoir slaughterhouse in Anderlecht was completely renovated and redesigned as a covered market hall with a urban farm on the roof with an area of ​​4,000 m2. The vegetables grown there are for sale in the ‘foodmet’ downstairs, but can also be sold to nearby restaurants. A win-win for all parties involved.

Another phenomenon in support of local agriculture can be found in the CSA network (Community Supported Agriculture). These are farmers who work with members who pay their membership in advance in exchange for fresh produce and packed lunches, including vegetables, dairy products, eggs or even meat. Such a system not only promotes healthy and sustainable agriculture, it also ensures social cohesion in the local community. Thanks to the advance payment, farmers are assured of their income and receive a correct price for their products. Members can also register for self-selection. This ensures that you pay less for the vegetables. As concerned citizens, we ourselves will have to make an effort to research this ourselves, to ensure that the right projects are supported.

Conclusion: To tackle the relationship between purchasing power and food not only in the short term, a completely different way of producing, transporting and consuming is required. Prosuming is an important part of this. A transformation in which the short food chain will play an important role.

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