When I was younger on a cold rainy day, when it was too miserable to go out and play and there was nothing good on TV my mum and I would cook. We’d make chillies and fruit scones. We’d make soups and stews and cakes and cookies. We’d watch Nigella Lawson then switch over to Jamie Oliver and we’d write their recipes down and compare them to my mum’s own recipe books – filled with handwritten recipes, ripped out pages from magazines with the sprawls of a crazy woman on them correcting and adjusting. As I grew up, I took that love of food with me – searching for my generation of chefs. Waiting for new SortedFood videos, envying Rosanna Pansino’s stunning bakes and craving every mess EpicMealTime ever made.
My childhood was always filled with warm, fresh baked goods and home cooked meals filled with love so when I left to go out into the world on my own at 17 I was confident that I’d never need to order out, never need to buy biscuits and never need to buy store made treats.
And then I realised a single block of cheese was £3.50.
I have sat on this thought for a while. Now in 2020, baking and home cooking is a rarity. It takes hard work, valuable time and – if you’re starting fully from scratch – a lot of money. Jamie Oliver talks of ‘15-minute meals’ and about how you can get ‘7 meals from a whole chicken!’ which is true – if you can drop the £5 for the whole chicken, the multiple hours over at least 3 days to break the chicken down, create the stock and make other meals rather than just go for the 1kg bag of chicken breast on the 2 for £5 deal that takes 30 minutes to cook.
I’ve, in fact, done that math. I was in a shop and saw triple chocolate chips and immediately thought ‘I can make those’ so I looked up a recipe courtesy of Sainsburys.
Sainsburys says that these cookies serve 12 and cost 43p per serving, however, that’s assuming you already have half of the ingredients. They call for 150g of each dark, milk and white chocolate but their cheapest only comes in 100g chocolate bars meaning you have to buy two of each – at 50p per bar that’s £3. Unsalted butter £1.60, light soft brown sugar £1.40, caster sugar £1.10. Vanilla extract £2, eggs £0.85 for 6, flour for 50p, cocoa powder £2.75 and finally baking powder for £0.90.
These are the prices on Sainsburys own website, all the cheapest possible option. Now, obviously you can find cheaper options elsewhere but for something that claims to be 43p per serving, £14.10 is a pretty heavy investment just for 12 cookies and even then, this is assuming you don’t need to buy a pan, a baking tray, greaseproof paper and a mixing bowl.
While, of course, it’s better to make your own food – making pasta is easy and fun, baking bread is incredibly satisfying and a huge ego boost – it’s also incredibly hard, even when you’re ‘good’ at it. The time investment needed to not just make things from scratch but to get the ingredients needed to do it isn’t something to sniff at when looking at the person with a 40+ hour work week, on top of whatever daily traveling that’s needed, whatever chores we all do and trying to sleep somewhere in between – is it really a choice between the meal with intensive 2 hour prep, or the 15 minute frozen pizza?
Services such as HelloFresh, SimplyCook and Vegetarian Express are a huge step in helping people feel confident in their skills, of getting your ingredients delivered and just putting them all in a pan, but are still wildly varied in price.
Inherently, the physical strain of getting into cooking will never truly lessen – good cooking will always involve hard work, love and attention – especially when life gets in the way but it shouldn’t have to be a financial strain too. Researching stores with best practices that also keep prices low is the best way to get good food at the lowest price but truely it starts with looking into what you’re buying – more often than not, the same products from the same production line are put into slightly different packaging and sold at hugely different prices. Even then, there’s rarely a massive difference between something labeled savers and something labelled finest – you’ll have a hard time finding someone that can tell the difference between Asda’s own brand 27p salt and a name brands 90p salt.
While taking the time to shop around is the obvious solution, advocating on a larger scale for cheaper prices on good quality food and ingredients is a better one. Celebrity chef and food and environmental activist, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has spent years campaigning for the best treatment of animals within the food industry and accessibility of high quality ingredients and keeps his campaigns up to date over on the River Cottage website and the team over at SortedFood continue to work with local stores and big supermarkets to get the best recipes and options to foodies as well as creating their SortedClub and a Packs app, designed to help keep food waste down and save money through meal planning.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jamie Spafford from Sorted Food, to discuss his views on the price of food which can be found here.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/