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Families wonder about rising food costs

—more local may be the way to go
Thursday, January 14, 2016

A small middle class family of three to four people may spend between $3,000 to $4,000 or more a month on their food bill, depending on the age of their children, their eating preferences, their income, and where they source their food. While some families fear higher food costs when food items previously zero-rated face a 12.5 per cent Value Added Tax in February, others say families can find ways to economise or alter their food eating habits, and can also save money by sourcing local food or growing some of their own.

The Guardian asked four families (each of three or four people) about their food costs. They said they spent between $3,000 to $5,000 on food a month.

One San Fernando single mother of two teenagers said she spent $2,000 a month at the grocery, but also spent at the market for fresh chicken and vegetables, and at times bought fast food, so the actual funds spent on all food per month might be more than $3,000. She admitted her daughters had “developed foreign tastes” for some foods, like broccoli and sausages, which may soon be more expensive.

One retired family man from St Augustine estimated he currently spends about $4,000 a month on food and other necessities per month, for a family of three. But he emphasised: “The monthly food cost for an average small family would vary a lot—depending on the income of the family. The tastes and spending patterns of the lower and upper class people are very different. So that’s a hard question to answer for a ‘typical’ family.” 

Nyerere Haynes from Paramin who has two young children aged two and four years, estimates his family of four may spend anywhere between $3,000 to $4,000 on food and Pampers for the month—babies are often more expensive to care for than older children. At some times of the year, his market bill is much less, because he lives in Paramin, where friends and neighbours might often bring fresh provision, vegetables in season, or even fish to share. “When you live in an agricultural community, that can really offset your food bill,” he said.

“When you have young children, you must have milk,” said Haynes: “So for example my young four-year-old daughter, will drink three to four litres of milk a week; my son would have a large container of the KLIM growing formulae a week... And they both drink a case of juice a week...They get catered lunch in school, which I pay for and which I expect will soon cost more.”

Rice, sugar, flour, meats, and vegetables are among the essentials, says Haynes. “Actually most of the food is imported,” he reflects, except for the meats he buys. Although prices for some items will rise, Haynes says: “I am not really one to panic. I have always cooked my own meals and know how to make meals last to stretch a dollar. So for instance, I seldom buy lunches outside but always made my own.” He added he planned his meals for the week, recycled meals from Sunday or other large cooking, and mixed and matched to create different weekday meals.

Roberto Codallo, a photographer, estimates he spends about $3,000 a month in food for his family of four people. He says his family already doesn’t buy any “fancy foods,” just basic, regular staples—except for a few extras, such as Supligen milk for his daughter, who developed a taste for it and now will not drink any other milk. But apart from a few items like that, he says there’s not really much he could cut out or stop buying. He shops for food in grocery stores and big box warehouse stores like PriceSmart. So he’s cautious about the idea of rising food costs.

Dennis “Tayé” Allen, a designer who has two teenage sons, estimates he spends about $3,175 to feed his family of three per month. He estimates his food bill may increase by 10 to 20 per cent after this month. He anticipates that prices will also increase for fast food and packaged food, which he admits he does eat a lot: he says he’ll have to cut down on that. 

How does he see the possibility of increased food prices affecting him? 

“I can’t stop shopping for health. But what I am planning to do is start growing more of my own food. So—things like canned or processed peas, I’ll grow. I’m also planning to be raising some tilapia at home in tanks. I’m looking at doing fruit, vegetables and beans—pigeon peas, red beans, black eye peas—at home, all of these things that we usually eat.”

“Most of my food bill is foreign, because we buy a lotta stuff at PriceSmart, and although there seems to be much local food there, it’s in fact locally repackaged from food grown elsewhere—so you might see green peas, but it’s from Dominica,” observed Allen. 

“We’re not growing anything here for our own mass market consumption...except cabbage, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and pepper. And we need more than those things to survive. It’s possible to get real good quality food by growing it here. We have to stop thinking: ‘Oh, woe is me—we have to spend more money on food!’ We have to get smarter, and that is really the challenge,” said Allen.


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