Why Mum’s Gone to Iceland

Yesterday I went to Iceland and spent nearly £30 quid stocking up on basics like bread, cheese, milk, apples, peanut butter and yogurts. Everything I bought (with the exception of bag of chocolate mini eggs) was relatively nutritious, but a lot cheaper than Sainsbury’s, Tesco or other “regular” supermarkets.

A few years ago I would have shuddered at such behaviour. Iceland was not for someone like me   – dear me no. It was for people like this:

In my snobbish brain, Iceland was for fat, poorly uneducated plebs, for chavs ( a word I used liberally in the pre Owen Jones days). Although I baulked at Waitrose and regular trips to M&S (a waste of money), wild horses would not have dragged me through the doors of Iceland. I mean, someone I knew might have seen me going in there!

I’m not quite sure when I changed my mind. I think it might have something to do with buying some of those disposable barbeques and seeing that they were half the price in Iceland (and perfectly ok). Then seeing that 4 pints of milk costs a quid – a lifesaver when your kids drink literally buckets of the stuff. Then seeing that you could get a decent loaf of bread in there for a pound – brown with seeds not some white crap. Then I was hooked. I also like Morrison’s as well (somewhere else I used to sneer at), probably because food has become hideously expensive in the past few years. I reckon the big price rises started in about 2008, but don’t quote me on that.

Basically a loaf of bread you used to be able to buy in Sainsbury’s/Tesco/Co-op for a quid back in 2007/8 for a pound now costs about £1.60.  Yesterday I saw a 250 gram jar of Marmite on sale in Sainsbury’s for £3.26. And I’ve seen tins of tomatoes (which in my mind should cost about 50/60p) on sale for over a pound in Tesco.

Yes there are lost leaders, BOGOFs and no small number of “meal deals” (M&S lure in the population of austerity Britain with some tempting offers).

A lot of supermarket deals focus on highly processed, sugary, fatty stuff – it’s rare to get a deal on lettuce or eggs. Which goes some way towards explaining why poorer families eat a lot of rubbish – yes, of course you can make your own soup/bread/knit your own polenta – but this takes time and who can be arsed to do this when you’re working nights/cleaning houses/wiping arses for a living. Or you’re fed up of trying to keep your head above water and think “Sod it, I’ll have a frozen pizza/tube of Pringles/bag of mini Mars bars for dinner tonight.”

I know all about special offers as I scour the shops for them in an attempt to keep the food bill under control without feeding my kids crap/eating a boring and depressing diet. I like to eat well and buy fresh, nutritious food. I reckon we spend about £120 p/w on food – 2 adults, 2 kids, one baby. How anyone manages to feed a family on Jobseekers (or even feed a single adult) is a mystery. I guess you just have to eat a lot of pasta (which has shot up in price) or sandwiches (as we’ve already discussed, bread is hardly cheap these days).

Ah yes. When I noticed that the food bill was shooting up and that bread (and other wheat based foods) was becoming ridiculously expensive, I assumed that there must have been a bad harvest or a shortage somewhere. After all, in a “free market”, price is controlled by the interaction of supply and demand.

Wrong. A little light reading on the subject proved to me that the rising costs of my shopping were fuelled by speculation in commodities.

It’s explained here:

And also here:

There are many, many articles on this subject and the message is clear: the global surge in food prices that is not only behind the vast increase in the cost of living (in a recession) but also hunger and starvation in developing countries, is largely man made. What is driving up the price of food is speculation – the same force that created the sub prime mortgage crisis, the credit crunch, the bank bail out, etc etc etc. Food is getting more expensive because people are making bets on the price of commodities, not because of any real shortage or increase in demand. The conventional reasons for inflation – an overheating economy, lavish wage settlements, consumer confidence are conspicuous by their absence.

The irony is that this kind of speculative activity would have been unheard of in the dark days of the Seventies/early 80s, when inflation was the big issue. Possible causes for inflation back then included the 1973 oil price rise, Nixon printing  money to pay for the disastrous war in Vietnam and of course greedy trade unions haggling for big pay rises for their members.

Thatcher loved to position herself as the inflation buster – here she is pretending to be ” an ordinary housewife”.

Thatcher’s inflation busting policies crippled British industry,  but hey, they put the unions back in their corner. Big business now set the agenda – an agenda that includes food price speculation, cartels (supermarkets are an obvious example) and the religion of the free market as the only thing that matters. Anyone who complains – about say, the promotion of fatty, sugary crap food – or the rotten way companies like Tesco treat their workers is seen as some kind of throwback.

Supermarkets are great – they’re even helping reduce the dole queues now by taking on armies of loads of unemployed people to stack their shelves and push trolleys round their carparks. Woo hoo!

Obviously I’m the worst kind of hypocrite as I spend a disproportionate amount of my time and our household income in supermarkets. I can’t afford not to.

After all, there is no alternative…..

Of course that’s utter rubbish, as shown by the success of the Co-op supermarkets and fantastic ventures like The People’s Supermarket in Bloomsbury.

David Cameron tried to hijack the shop as some kind of example of The Big Society (or  B/S as I prefer to call it) because it uses volunteers who get a discount on food in return for putting in a few hours into the shop. But don’t let that put you off – it does all sorts of cool things like buying cucumbers that have been rejected by the major chains for being too curly

Curly cucumbers aside, it’s not really practical for me to do more than the odd bit of shopping in The People’s Supermarket  but I do love the place. It’s genuinely inspiring.

I’ll shut up now (at last, they all chorus), but before I go away, I recommend you read this:

You won’t be able to put it down. Trust me xxx

This entry was published on February 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

8 thoughts on “Why Mum’s Gone to Iceland

  1. For the “How do families on JSA (etc.) afford it” question:
    Items required –
    1. The ability to count – so you don’t go over your budget or over the space you have available at home.
    2. A chest freezer (which can be found for £10 on Gumtree or free on FreeCycle)
    3. Patience/Timing

    I used to be able to feed myself and the girls for about £30 a week. In fact, at present I’m only paying £45 a week between three adults (we all chip in on it). We don’t live on pasta alone! I get about 5kg basics spuds, 1kg basics onions, got a veg shop round the corner where I can fill a carrier bag with various items for about £1 every other day or so, meat is on the 3 for £10 offer, everything else is from the reduced items section – best times for this in Morrisons are 1pm and about 8pm – the later slot means you’re getting veg and meat and bread for pennies. You just need to freeze it when you get in – in suitably split sizes of course, blanch veg that won’t keep, freeze it in batches.

    If you don’t have a freezer then you have the daily chore of the reduced aisle but, believe me, it never gets boring and you get more than you bargained for and more of a variety.

  2. very sensible advice. thank you.

  3. Georgina on said:

    You’ve probably also noticed that in the last 10 years while the price of food, energy, transport and other essentials has gone up, the price of luxury items has gone down or remained about the same. What kind of message does this send I wonder?

    So you now you can have a TV in every room for less than a months worth of food shopping, but yet struggle to afford the electricity to run them.

    As an aside, fruit and veg are very very cheap at your local market, and if you have the time it’s definitely worth dropping by!

  4. As bad as the UK is, you want to visit Ireland. It’s outrageous 😦
    Good tips there from Lu there though, but we don’t have the same amount of competition here.

  5. Adam Creen on said:

    You’re like the Adam Curtis of supermarket shopping!

  6. wanted to leave you a great piece of `anti tesco graffiti but will have to email to you as I can’t seem to post into this reply box.
    Am loving the rants……

  7. Pingback: Lucy hearts The People’s Supermarket « Richard Osley

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