At the gym the other day, I was watching several different TVs, switching back and forth between the lunchtime news, continuous music videos, extra slow cricket and the usual daytime chat shows. I was trying to find something that would distract me from the fact that I was working out when one of the normally bored-looking newscasters caught my attention. The BREAKING NEWS banner started to travel across the bottom of the screen and he looked as if he was struggling to contain his excitement. He gestured towards some large onscreen graphics of what looked like the ECG of a heart attack with several downward pointing arrows and the presenter announced with an air of extreme satisfaction, that the UK was officially in a period of deflation.
He went on to say that one of the main causes of the dip was a recent fall in fresh food prices driven by the supermarket price wars, a battle between the larger dominant giant superstores and the smaller scrappier discount outlets. With the exception of fruit and vegetables, the British Retail Consortium said that the price of food is on average 7% lower in the UK than in the rest of the EU. The newscaster went on to say that deflation was nothing to worry about and if anything, it was a great thing for consumers who should keep taking advantage of all the bargain food prices.
I have admit that I found all the food arrows pointing down hard to believe because my own weekly spend on food hadn’t shifted. If anything, it had recently been going up. Although, my children did seem to be clearing the fridge out on an ever increasing scale in line with their growth spurts… Unfortunately, the news also backed up a less optimistic sounding report released by the UK think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI) saying that the global rise in obesity has been partly fuelled by the increasing rising cost of a healthy diet. The ODI found that in the past 30 years—in high-income countries—the price of fruit and vegetables has increased while, at the same time, there has been a continual decrease in the price of high calorie processed foods. The ODI cited this trend as having helped to encourage an unhealthy diet and excess weight gain leading to obesity. Worryingly, they found that this has become more pronounced in emerging economies such as Mexico, Brazil, China and Korea, making it a truly global phenomenon.
As I continued to run on the treadmill, I wondered if this new period of deflation would actually cause more people’s weight to inflate. In other words, if we take advantage of the even lower food prices offered in deflation we may unwittingly be stepping onto an unstoppable obesity treadmill, prompting greater price wars and increasing the gulf even more between the prices of healthy and unhealthy foods. Let’s face it, have you ever heard of a price war on bananas or kale? It is probably not going to happen in deflation, either. This will make it even harder to reach for the green stuff when the easy option also helps to save you money. So far from being a positive thing, deflation may actually speed up the rate at which our diets change for the worse and more of us may go on to become overweight, obese and very ill.
I left the gym feeling deflated and thinking that it was probably too simplistic to make fruit and vegetables more affordable than less healthy options to make a real impact on obesity levels. Then again, some countries are already convinced that addressing this disparity in food pricing is a part of the solution. Mexico, in particular, has been a bit of a maverick in this area by recently introducing a tax on sugary drinks and energy dense food. Only time will tell if pure economics will help curb the country’s high rates of obesity. Perhaps it is a matter of finding more solutions that take advantage of our natural instinct to look for a bargain. It may be that making unhealthy food too expensive is the only way that we will truly lose our appetite. The question is: will it also help us grow a hunger for fruit and veg.?
Well, all of this thinking about deflation while running didn’t just make me tired but hungry, too. And what did I think of eating to combat this but something that can only rise, of course! This Walnut, sesame & fig bread uses yeast to leaven but it is still a rather dense loaf, jam-packed full of flavour. Even one of my children who is not a huge fan of visible nuts is hooked on it. It also makes a perfect recovery snack as it contains a good mix of carbs with some protein. The only difficulty you will face is trying to share it.