Food-inflation tsunami | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Food-inflation tsunami

4 September, 2022

This country has one of the highest food-inflation numbers in the world according to reliable statistics. At present it seems this statistic is not felt in the bones of the more fortunate, leave alone the policymakers.

Basic food costs are now almost three times what they used to be say in March of this year, to take a convenient date. Salaries obviously have not kept up, and in the circumstances the economy is in, it’s pointless talking about that for some time to come.

The impact on families is such that those who live from pay-packet to pay-check have to skimp on other essentials if they are to make ends meet. But what other essentials are they to skimp on? There is hardly any room left for ordinary people to cut corners.

They cannot cut corners on fuel because the costs at the pump have skyrocketed. Obviously, they cannot skimp on schoolbooks and so on because there are no concessions there — it is not as if children are allowed in school without the necessary books, equipment and stationary and so on.

The situation must be unbearable to most people with families. They are not the type who would head for the so called soup kitchens that are being run by rich but well-meaning people. However, there is no redress in sight for the less better off demographics, and society is at a stage where people have accepted that they are lucky to have escaped the recent meltdown with their lives intact, so to speak.


So they do not make much of a noise, and nobody makes much noise on their behalf either. But what’s troubling is that there isn’t much empathy for the wage-earner, particularly when it concerns the price of food and kitchen commodities.

There is some form of aid by way of emergency grants and so on that’s coming into the country because there is an emergency situation in Sri Lanka as far as people’s purchasing power is concerned, with reference to daily essentials.

But this food aid does not make things any better for the vast majority of the middle-classes and the poor. They are not aid recipients, and they never will be. They are ordinary homemakers and they are always left to their own devices — which would have been fine normally, but isn’t when food inflation is at the level the country is experiencing today.

It is said that most people skimp on meals in the vast community of the Sri Lankan middle-class, and those below that demographic, but even if they do, it is heartrending to imagine the plight of schoolchildren for instance. It is easy to say that adults have chosen to go hungry by forfeiting at least a meal a day. But it is difficult to imagine that for young children.

At present the attitude among most that are in charge — and not in charge but relatively well off — is that there is no alternative but to wait until things sort themselves out. But in the case of the relatively poor at least, this is not a good solution as malnutrition and so on could have its impact, especially on the longer term.


What’s also sad is the fact that food inflation impacts those who are healthy and are willing and able to do a job and contribute to the economy. These are not sick people, and of course it’s another matter that the sick suffer particularly badly due to a whole different set of reasons.

But yet, food-inflation hits and hurts the most dynamic sectors of society among the poor and the middle-classes, and it’s a pity that it’s impact is still not a matter for discussion among the more well to do sectors of society by and large.

But it is hard to be fatalistic about something that is so basic. To a great extent it is understandable that among a vast cross section of the population, the feeling is of relief that there is at least some respite at the petrol queues etc. People feel as if they were cavorting with imminent disaster, and were somehow saved in the nick of time.

It’s human to rationalise and be content in this way, but it does nothing in terms of alleviating the conditions of people who have to watch their children go hungry. Grin and bear it was never a solution.

In the hotels and the eateries the proprietorships are struggling too. They are unable to do much about food-inflation. Prices have to go up, there is no choice in the matter, and that’s axiomatic. When people cannot make ends meet, they generally resort to working two or three jobs and taking part timework gigs, but the economic conditions are not conducive to that in the least, with the private sector being forced to cut back on expenses.

A culture of handouts does not help, but at least some basic consideration for the nutritional needs of the struggling masses are in order. This applies for instance to the price of eggs. This writer has witnessed customers in wayside boutiques asking to buy one or two eggs.

Eggs were the only affordable source of protein for the poorer folk, but there is no good news on this front either, because a variety of reasons have contributed to a plummeting egg industry.

At least some of the key sectors — egg and dairy for instance — could do with the special attention of the authorities. But that does not seem to be happening, and to be as sanguine about it as possible, it’s probably in part because the situation is overwhelming to the policymakers as well.

But nutritional issues are not trifling. If people who can’t afford it skimp too much on food, the result would be that the healthy too would be soon on the sick list due to lack of proper nourishment. Now is of course probably, in a way that may be seen to be perverse, the best time to inculcate good dietary habits in people.


A lot of folk — even among the poorer demographics, were used to high-carbohydrate diets, because they downed mountains of rice or flour-based preparations in vast quantities for all three meals.

This caused nutritional problems too, not due to a lack of food of course, but due to the repercussions from such unhealthy eating. Lifestyle changes were recommended because ingrained habits are difficult to get rid of.

Now is perhaps the best time for nutritionists to get across the message that people, even though they want to get back to normal and three meals a day, should not lapse into the habit of high-carbohydrate diets when they can once more afford it.

They could inculcate healthy-eating among their children too. At the moment the problem may be that struggling parents don’t have enough food to keep their kids fed. But, whenever they are able to afford it, they shouldn’t be over eager to get back to diets that were far from satisfactory for young people who sometimes fell prey to modern day maladies such as obesity and diabetes.

Of course bad dietary habits are concomitant of the lack of access to food because of the simple reason that parents cannot feed children a balanced-diet because they cannot afford it. But the flip side of it is that this is also the problem of rich parents in well to do countries. They have too much money to buy all the junk that’s readily available for sale and is liked by the children because junk-purveyors always make their food tasty and attractive.

Granted that’s not the problem parents back here have at the moment. But keeping one eye on how the food-inflation problem can be addressed in the short term, there can be some positivity coming out of this unenviable crisis people coping with the food-inflationary spiral now face.