What should it cost to feed a family for a week?
It’s possible to feed a family of four for €100 a week, but only if you have access to varied shops and a good culinary knowledge. ‘Food poverty’ isn’t just a question of price
Food poverty: ‘It is never just about cost. Access is a big issue too: access to food and access to shops and information’
Kim Greene, on right (with Natasha Shaw), who featured in an Irish Times story about low-income families and budget cuts. Photograph: Alan Betson
On September 30th, an article in this newspaper outlined the difficulty some families have feeding their families.
One woman who featured in the article – Kim Greene, a 31-year-old mother of four – said she fed her children chicken nuggets, hot dogs and burgers because money was so tight.
“Three chicken fillets cost €7.50 and they’re not even big,” she said. “It’s cheaper to buy a packet of 10 chocolate bars for €1 than give them some healthy snacks. Two punnets of strawberries for a fiver, who can afford that?”
After the story was published, social media treated Greene harshly. Some ridiculed her for spending €7.50 on chicken breasts when they could be bought for half that in some supermarkets.
Others wondered why anyone in such dire financial straits was even considering buying fresh strawberries for €5 when six apples can be found selling in discounters for less than €1.
The general tone of many of the responses was: “Stop moaning! It is easy to feed a family well for less than €100 once you put some effort into it.”
That is true – up to a point. On the same day that article appeared, a Pricewatch piece outlined how to feed a family well on less than €100 a week, by eschewing expensive brands, processed foods and convenience shops and doing a weekly shop, from a list, in a big discounter.
But neither story gives a full picture. Pricewatch is not in the same position as Kim Greene. Pricewatch owns a car and can drive to the cheapest supermarkets in search of better value. Pricewatch has time to plan meals ahead. Pricewatch can cook (reasonably) and Pricewatch has enough money to bring a child to the GP without having to eat into the weekly food budget.
Most people at risk of food poverty, people such as Kim Greene, don’t have these luxuries; they frequently inhabit a world of hand-to-mouth existence. They do not deserve to be criticised for shopping in convenience stores, or spending money on products of dubious nutritional merit.
“Sometimes people are not in the position to make the smart decisions and they know that,” says Barnados spokeswoman Irene Lawlor – the woman who put Greene in touch with this newspaper as part of its campaign calling on Michael Noonan to spare a thought for the State’s most vulnerable people as he put together his budget in recent weeks.
The Oliver angle
It is not only online critics who believe eating well on a low income is easy. At the end of August Jamie Oliver made headlines when he questioned what the poorest families in Britain were eating.