Know Your Spuds

I read this disturbing article in the Guardian “Food bank users declining potatoes as cooking costs too high” and nearly wept.

Inflation for the year to February was 6.2% (CPI) and some things like gas, electricity and fuel are up by much more than that. This puts strain on very budget.

But whilst there is a huge problem with people not having enough money, prices are rising and soon when the new fuel bills hit we’ll all feel the pinch – there seems to be a basic numeracy problem with people in the UK. The article itself claims that people are spurning free potatoes and root vegetables as they require more time to cook, it makes no effort to calculate out how much energy is required to boil potatoes for eating and how much that will cost.

I’ll do that now for you because I’m pro-potato and anti-ignorance.
From the article “I think the cost of living crisis is the single most important domestic issue we are facing as a country,” the Iceland managing director told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “It is incredibly concerning. We are hearing of some food bank users declining products such as potatoes and other root veg because they can’t afford to boil them.”

I tried to see if I could work out how much energy is required to turn (free) raw potatoes into cooked potatoes but found conflicting information online.

Instead, I’ll assume that you are cooking potatoes in water in a pot on a 1kW stove ring. It will take you (conservatively) 30 minutes to heat the water and cook the potatoes. That makes 0.5 kWh (or units) and if each unit is 30p (conservative but a good approximation) then the cost of cooking those potatoes is 0.5 x 30p = 15p. Using gas will be cheaper by the way and also, the stove ring will start cycling when it reaches the setpoint meaning you’ll in practice only use that 1kW half the time – but ignoring that and sticking with 15p for a giant feed of spuds.

For less than 50p electricity you could have a giant feed or spuds, neeps and carrots – and you could use the left over water for a tasty stock – throw it in a pot, just add in some salt, pepper, onions – baby, you’ve got a stew going! What else can you buy for 50p these days?

Don’t Look a Gift Potato in the Mouth

To me, I don’t think that 15p to cook your free potatoes is that expensive. It’s a small fraction of the actual cost of the spuds and especially since the alternative is starvation – it’s a small price to pay. So what’s going on with the choosey beggars at foodbanks?

Food Poverty

Much like many of my plans to solve food poverty (I’ve written before about Marcus Rashford) I get the feeling that those in poverty don’t want to feel like they are deprived and would rather eat oven chips (at £2/kg) than their less tasty cousin the boiled potato (at 80p/kg). But to turn your nose up at food because it requires cooking for a bogus reason that you don’t understand how numbers work – numbers that not only influence your every day life but you need to know and understand more now than ever before!

To me, I don’t think that 15p to cook your free potatoes is that expensive. It’s a small fraction of the actual cost of the spuds and especially since the alternative is starvation – it’s a small price to pay. So what’s going on with the choosey beggars at foodbanks?

I’m not saying that everyone at the foodbank should be given a sack of brown rice and told to f**k off – if you can’t work out how to feed yourself and don’t want potatoes then what’s the solution? The return of the poor house?

Does being wealthy in 2022 mean that you can afford to buy and boil your own potatoes? Sorry if you think that I’m being insensitive – I’ve ranted for the last 20 years that the ladder is being pulled up from my generation – a decline in our whole standard of living when it comes to pensions, property, careers, education – it’s only taken to this point where we’ve all run out of road. What’s the solution for hard-pressed families (it’s always families)? I think that economics begins at home – and knowing how much things actually cost and where you’re making a false economy is basic stuff.

Thanks, GFF

10 Comments

  1. Next time you are in a supermarket take a look at the amount of pre-packaged and prepared foodstuffs in people’s trolleys. Some households are paying significant amounts more just for convenience of opening a packet and throwing stuff in the oven.

    It doesn’t take much skill to make a pizza from scratch, batch cook a chilli, Shepherd’s pie or other simple recipes. Cooking from scratch has gone out of fashion and people are literally paying the price for convenience.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s what I suspect.
      Another thing that I’ve seen is that some people don’t like drinking water anymore. Once you get the taste for sugared drinks, it’s hard to kick it.

      I suspect that some people wouldn’t know what to do with a potato 🥔

      Like

      1. I recall years ago that Jamie Oliver tried to help lower income households to learn basic cookery skills and there was one household with a really expensive oven that looked nice but they never used it.
        Of course, you can’t tell people what to do or how to live their lives. However, I tire of the response that government needs to fix everything.
        Admittedly I’m old school but I find it handy being able to look after a household budget, change a tyre, fix a puncture in a bike tyre, change a fuel line in a 17 year old car etc. My son is 8 and has only tried cola once, thankfully he wasn’t keen. In contrast, a few months ago I saw a mother putting Irn Bru into a baby’s bottle for her toddler – you just can’t save everyone can you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good to know l not alone when l despair at the misleading articles we read about poverty in the UK, For many fast food and fizzy drinks are today’s substitute for boiling potatoes.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Just sounds like laziness to me, or maybe lessons need to be doled out on how to cook the cheap and versatile spud – mashed, chipped, wedges, boiled, sauted, jackets etc. I want to say they can’t be that hungry if they are turning away food but it sounds a bit crass.

    Like @David Andrews, I occasionally take a peek at other people’s shopping trolleys and the litres of Coke and ready-made meals/beige food is sad. Not that I’m some healthy ‘green goddess’ with my food but at least half of my shopping is veg, fruit and fresh meat. (the other half, often snacks and beer lol).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is also the fact that unless you have a heatpump, in summer the heat is serving a secondary role besides cooking potatoes – heating your home about as efficiently as your boiler. But since summers exist, it’s fair not to count this as a positive.

    Liked by 1 person

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