Politician and journalist Annuziata Rees-Mogg has come under fire for her comments about food poverty, after she responded to a tweet explaining how ‘unhealthy’ food is typically cheaper than fresh food.
Earlier this week, prime minister Boris Johnson announced his plan to ‘tackle obesity’ across the UK. In a campaign intended to boost the health of people across the country and take pressure off the NHS in the case of a second wave, the government have introduced a number of new policies, including forcing large restaurants, cafes and takeaways to display calorie counts on their foods, a move which has been widely criticised for encouraging disordered eating.
The campaign has also come under scrutiny for failing to understand how healthier foods are often much more expensive than the “high-fat” junk foods, making them a more financially viable option for low-income families. And while many people on Twitter were quick to point this out, there were still plenty who seemingly failed to understand the reality of the thousands of people living in food poverty across the UK.
Most notably, politician and freelance journalist Annuziata Rees-Mogg has come under fire for her comments about the new initiative. The sister of Conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg took to Twitter yesterday to share her take on the issue of food prices, and in doing so, highlighted a much wider issue: the widespread lack of understanding about the complexities of living in poverty which still permeates society.
Responding to a comment from journalist Hollie Borland which said, “Until fruit and veg costs less than a bag of supermarket chips, you can’t expect struggling households to have healthier diets,” Rees-Mogg simply wrote: “Tesco 1kg potatoes = 83p, 950g own brand chips = £1.35”.
In a second tweet, she added: “The oft repeated but inaccurate belief that low quality/unhealthy food is *always* cheaper than raw ingredients is part of the problem. It’s why learning to buy/budget for food is important alongside learning to cook.”
Rees-Mogg’s comments were criticised by many for completing missing the point and failing to take into account the other factors which make healthy eating inaccessible.
“The focus is being misplaced,” read one response. “It’s not the cost of the ingredients (chips/potatoes) its time!
“Oven chips can be stored for months and cook, unsupervised, in 20 minutes. Potatoes, including prep, take 45 minutes with constant attention…
“Without support structure cooking is impractical.”
Another response simply read: “Items you missed off: rent, heating, an oven, utensils, oil, energy and time after the 12hr care home shift.”
A third added: “My partner worked at a food bank for many years - some people had only a kettle and a microwave to make food with in a shared kitchen. This argument is much more complicated than ‘buy a bag of potatoes’. You need resources, education, space and time as well as money.”
And journalist Ash Sarkar pointed out: “Unless you want to eat plain boiled potatoes, then whatever you want to make with that kilo of spuds is going to cost more (not to mention time and cooking equipment.”
As the responses to Rees-Mogg’s tweet highlight, food poverty is a lot more than just a lack of budget to buy food. Thanks to the rising costs of gas, electricity and rent, people in poverty are often left without the resources to spend hours cooking a meal with fresh ingredients. And when, according to the latest statistics, an estimated 8.4 million people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat, this is a reality that desperately needs to be understood.
Indeed, as food writer and activist Jack Monroe pointed out in a now-viral thread, living in poverty is a multi-faceted experience, so suggesting someone make a 52p saving on potatoes isn’t the common sense approach it might seem.
“New TV pitch idea. Me and Annunziata Rees-Mogg both get given three quid a day and a family of four to feed for a month,” Monroe wrote. “Living in adjacent too-small flats on 12th floor with broken lift and miles from the supermarket. No car. Barely any kitchen equipment. See who cracks up first.
“You start with completely empty cupboards and £3 in change, mostly coppers you have to feed into the self-service machine in the supermarket because you’re embarrassed to hand the massive pile of change to a human being.”
Monroe continued: “And it has to be a dinner, because if you’re only having one meal a day it needs to be a substantial one. Aim for 1500 calories per adult and try to balance it as best you can. You’ve got no store cupboard supplies, two hobs, no oven. Over to you.”