When it comes down to the basics of what we eat and why we eat it, the reality is we eat what we can access. We eat what our local shops, markets, supermarkets and restaurants supply and what we can afford, like and can cook. Our preferences are based upon what we are used to, what we desire, what we are told to eat, what is within our financial budget but mainly what is accessible and available. We the customer push food suppliers to meet our demands and it is the supply versus demand trends in business that leads to increased food sales in food trends. Food is medicine and good health (the absence of disease) depends upon access to food that will protect our immune system, protect us from disease and support our mental and physical wellbeing.
In society, good nutritious food has traditionally (less so today) been more expensive. Fresh food has been less affordable, reducing those on a lower budget to a diet of highly processed, full of sugar, fat and additives, food. Poor diet increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and poor mental health (sweeteners increase anxiety, eating vegetables has been shown to reduce depression and high sugar increases depression). Poor diet also affects sleep, energy levels and appetite and everything from your ability to focus, to intelligence and libido. We saw with COVID19 that a diet low in vitamin C and D (that comes from fresh produce or branded fortified foods which tend to be more expensive), increased individuals’ susceptibility to disease. This is one of the factors why those from poorer socioeconomic groups are more likely, (this and the fact that many frontline keyworker roles are poorly paid) to die from the disease. It is more than possible (as I know) to eat nourishing food on a lower budget if you know how (often education is a limitation for access to healthy food as we eat mainly what people around us eat and we are familiar with) but post Coronavirus the potential unemployment and recession may increase the price of food and worsen food inequality. If food prices rise, less people will have the access to good nutritious food and so less people will be able to fight disease.
Good health is possible if the supermarkets and shops sell healthy food. Yet this may all be changing. Coronavirus, changes in geopolitics and climate change will affect the availability of some foods we have traditionally taken for granted and assumed would always be in shops. We saw in Covid19 that lockdown and empty supermarket shelves led to food stockpiling and hoarding, which only worsened the restrictions on availability of certain products like fresh fruit and vegetables. In lockdown consumer behaviour and increased home baking led to less availability of key ingredients like flour. Food trends impact demand which reduces supply. Over lockdown the world became more aware of where our food came from and, when the restrictions on food directly affected us, how limited food supplies affected our diet. We ate what we could buy in the shops and as such, we found ourselves adapting to the situation and eating foods we would not have usually eaten. Going forward, with seeds in some fields not being planted due to no workers in fields over Coronavirus and due to Brexit changes and natural disasters and due to the fact the pandemic affected the whole world and not just one supply chain, the situation is only going to worsen. With hungry people comes angry people and it is this anger that will create further food shortages as compared to conflict and self interest create divisions that break up supply chains. Therefore, it is essential that we take stock and try to make our food chains as resilient as possible; that we try to produce more in the UK and to educate people to eat local produce.
New foods are entering our food chains. Plant based non-dairy milks and meat free meat substitutes are also changing our palates. As these become more readily available, they become cheaper to produce and more accessible to all. These easy to produce foods will impact our health, some are highly processed and high in sugar and fat while others are lower in saturated fat and sugar free. These new foods will affect our health.
Other things that will impact our health will be changes to restaurants. Before lockdown restaurants provided 25% of our calories and in lockdown with restaurants closed, we all learnt to home cook. Now, with restaurants and fast food available again, it will be interesting to see if people continue to eat at home, or whether there is an overcompensation and a surge in fast food usage. What you cannot have, you crave, and this inaccessibility may create a backlash which negatively affects people’s health. Changes in supply chains will also affect restaurants and if less healthy food becomes available, restaurants will turn to less high-quality ingredients in order to minimise costs. Going forward, with many restaurant chains such as Pizza Express and Pizza Hut going into administration and closing down and new start-up food businesses emerging, it will be interesting to see how our food habits change in relation to eating out, and how this affects our health.
Food availability affects what you eat. You see this when you go to visit a different area to where you live or go to foreign supermarkets and whilst trying new things is at first a novelty, you soon crave the food at home. If you are brought up eating healthy food, you are more likely to continue eating healthy food into adulthood. You will only change if you cannot access healthy food. So, as the world returns to a new-normal, it will be both interesting and terrifying to see how changes in food availability and demand, new foods entering the food chain and changes in food prices affect peoples health and physical and mental wellbeing. Food is medicine and if people cannot access life protecting medicine, they will suffer. Going forward I hope that governments and companies take the necessary steps to think ahead and protect society and individuals from healthy food unavailability before it is too late. Forward planning could save lives.