Austerity Angst

Leftovers - tomatoes, bread, red onion, mozzarella and home grown herbs
There is no doubt about it we are living in more austere times than many of us have known in our lifetimes.

In the UK this week there has been much furore over Jamie Oliver's comments on the shopping habits of those on lower incomes. With his new book to promote, Save with Jamie, Oliver has been speaking out about the spending choices of the poorest families, commenting on their purchases of large TVs, takeaways in styrofoam trays and reliance on supermarkets for shopping. 

I'm not surprised that Oliver has riled both the public and the press with these comments but this is nothing new from the Minister of Food. At least he is is consistent in his courting of controversy and with a new book to promote we all know that there is no such thing as bad publicity. He also received much criticism for championing local markets over supermarkets, and, since he earned a lot of money by working for Sainsbury's supermarket, who can blame his critics? 

If you gloss over Oliver's often naive 'non-judgmental' comments in this week's Radio Times some good points are made by both Oliver and Martin Lewis (MoneySavingExpert).

  • Food spending is a big part of most people's budgets – second only to mortgage/rent fees for most.
  • Many of us waste food – 40% on average per family according to Oliver.
  • Culturally, home cooking is not as valued as convenience in the UK.
  • Bulk-buying, batch freezing, shopping with a list and using food beyond its “sell-by” date will save you money.
  • It costs more money to be poor (pre-paid gas and electric meters for example).

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking of many more ways of saving money on food than those mentioned by Oliver and Lewis. 

  • Don't be brand loyal to food products - most budget brands are fine.
  • Shop around and don't be loyal to supermarkets (if you have a break from shopping at a supermarket they often lure you back with offers, especially if you shop online).
  • Use comparison food sites.
  • Buy reduced food in supermarkets (usually late evening onward) but only if you like the item.
  • Buy from German supermarkets.
  • Use Approved Food for luxury items that are heavily discounted.
  • Grow your own veg and herbs however small your home (I've seen lettuce growing on top of canal boats).
  • Buy seasonal veg.
  • Buy frozen veg.
  • Eat more meat free meals.
  • Adapt recipes – use dried herbs instead of fresh, substitute ingredients or leave them out if they're not essential to the cooking process or flavour.
  • Cooking from scratch will save you money.
  • Menu plan for a week or longer.
  • Keep a spending log.
  • Experiment with paying with cash when shopping to stop impulse buying..
  • Freeze leftovers however small.
  • Regularly stock take your cupboards, fridge and freezer.
  • You don't need expensive equipment to produce good food but preparation may take longer.
  • Share the cost of buy one get one free (especially if bulky) with a friend or nearby family member.
  • Read frugal living blogs for new recipes and ideas (many now itemise ingredient costs and give other helpful hints).
  • Borrow recipe books from friends or the library - Jamie has donated thousands of his current book free to many libraries in the UK.
  • Encourage everyone in your house to cook, then you all benefit. 
  • Don't see cooking as a chore - it has multiple benefits and research suggests that it is helpful for depression.
  • If you want to treat yourself support local food producers rather than buying goods from celebrity chefs - check out your local farmer's market.
  • Give home cooked gifts as presents.
  • Don't shop when you're hungry.

This week (on BBC 4's Woman's Hour) Oliver admitted that some of his remarks shouldn't have been made and he also pointed out that his recipes aren't really aimed at those living on or below the line. This was clear from the first episode of his new series last night. Although he offered some good recipe ideas they did require an extensively stocked store cupboard and a food processor - there wasn't a battered old frying pan or casserole dish in sight. And there was some obvious product placement in there of both Uncle Ben's rice and Oliver's own kitchen products.

What do you think of the debate? Did you watch this new series? Have you any more tips for saving money on food?



  1. If he gets Britain cooking from scratch again he is alright by me.

  2. He must be doing something right, £150 million he's supposed to be worth, and only 38.

  3. I missed the programme,but he isnt far wrong in some ways. I look at peoples' trolleys full of sliced white bread and fast food in the supermarkets and sigh.

  4. It's high time for this kind of thing to be brought up in the media, both in the UK and other countries; bring on the critics... Over 30 years ago I knew a single-parent family with many children and was always amazed that they would go and buy fish and chips for everyone or relatively expensive frozen foods, while worrying over 2p for a bus fare... The mother cooked a Sunday lunch once a month, so it wasn't that she couldn't cook, she just didn't (she didn't work outside the home and home was very very basic) and I thought then that surely the family could have been fed better and more healthily for less than they scraped together for their boxed goods. I realise that apathy often is a reason when people are very poor, but I have never understood buying processed food when your children have holes in the soles of their shoes and only one pair of jeans/trousers and a shirt to their name. Then and now, there seems to be some kind of feeling of entitlement and expectation that someone else do something about it, instead of actually and actively helping yourself. I've heard it's been worse since kids don't learn to cook at school any more, but I don't know if that has anything to do with it. Surely it's something you learn at home, but I suppose then working mothers will be blamed, and that's not fair, either!! Anyway, always glad to see families like yours where you obviously encourage your sons to get busy in the kitchen, too.

  5. I think everyone has jumped on a few words that Jamie said and taken them completely out of proportion. The actual book is VERY good and although I wasn't completely smitten with the TV programme I think he is working along the right lines.

    And after doing some research on exactly what Jamie has been up to in other areas I am amazed at the amount of time, energy and his own money that he has put into teaching schools (not just the famous Fifteen) but his Ministry of Food cooking schools for folk that really need to learn basic skills.

    We're too good in this country at raising someone up and then taking great pleasure in knocking them down, something that folk are most definitely trying to do with Jamie at the moment !!

  6. I've not watched his programme although I do like his 'throw it together style' ( mine too but my results never look the same!)
    I've worked with some of the poorest families in my area and a lot of the work I did was helping families budget, meal plan and cook from scratch. Some of the parents had never cooked veg from scratch, some had not even seen or eaten brocoli. We ran a community cafe providing tasty budget busting healthy meals, all for £1.00 a portion! Very popular,
    I bumped into a parent we worked with 8 years ago just yesterday. She had lost lots of weight, she looked good and so did her children. She told me how her time with us had turned her eating habits around. That felt good!
    Sadly government cuts have closed the service down. :( x

  7. Is he after a knighthood? Jamie I mean, Sir Martin Lewis I wouldn't mind!

    Sft x

  8. What a great post, very interesting. We have always been very budget conscious (even more so now that John is job-less) and I agree with all your tips. We are trying Aldi on Monday. The trouble is, food is only half the shopping bill! Washing powder, loo roll, shampoo etc all have to be bought from somewhere too...usually the supermarket. x

  9. I can't really comment on Jamie as I live outside UK and have not been able to see him on TV... I can't neither comment on the situation in UK as I am living in Luxembourg. So I can share my thoughts on what I see here around... I unfortunately think that many people got their priorities shifted wrongly. While they won't mind spending high budget on phones, TVs and other technologies, they will on food... I definitely think that you can eat well on a budget, but this is challenging and will require creativity. I never buy any soda for example... Which I think is something quite expensive... Also if you buy fresh products it is very often more expensive to by them pre-packed (ham, cheese, fruits, veggies) than if you buy them "bulk". I think it is a difficult debate and I also think that the truth is halfway...People tend to forget how to better buy food and yes, the economical crisis cannot be ignored...
    I hope my comment does make sense.

    1. Thanks for telling us your view - it seems the culture of fast food is creeping in everywhere. You made perfect sense :)

  10. I do think that eating well on a budget takes some effort, and that is maybe where some people fail - they can't be bothered to take the time and trouble, when junk is available cheaply. And I do think that money can be wasted on unnecessary things when it would far more beneficial to buy decent healthy food. I haven't heard any of Jamie's comments, but I'm guessing he just wants people to try harder and make better choices.

  11. I have been away from all media for a week so have not heard any of these comments. Sadly I would suspect that the reason that so many people in the UK do not eat healthily is that they simply do not know how to cook. If you learn from your parents and they don't cook then this vital skill is not passed on. Eating processed food is also likely to be just as cheap as buying from scratch as there are so often offers.


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