The first study to use real shopping lists to track the impact of the cost of living crisis on family budgets in Scotland has revealed a “dignity gap” between the cheapest produce and what families actually want to eat.
The Nourish Scotland report, published on Tuesday, tracks the affordability and affordability of the weekly shop for families of different sizes most at risk of food insecurity, including a single-parent family and a larger family unit with three children.
Dr Chelsea Marshall, author of the report, said: “We wanted to measure the cost of a diet that balances people’s healthy aspirations with the pleasures and realities of everyday life.
The researchers point to a significant difference between the cost of choosing only the cheapest food and drink available and the items that advisers thought the case study families would find acceptable – what is described as a ‘dignity gap’, which increases the cost of the weekly shop by 34%.
Volunteer community counselors created detailed meal plans containing all the food and drink the case study family would require in a typical week, taking into account the rhythms and routines of family life, including holidays and special occasions such as birthdays.
Michelle Martin, a working single parent from Edinburgh, who advised one of the meal plans, said: “If you’re taking your kids to soft play, you don’t want to be the parent who says, ‘No, we’re not buying anything’.” You want to treat their friends to pizza too.
Menu plans reflect routine micro-decisions that parents love her face. “My kids love Heinz beans, and the cheap off-brand beans taste completely different.” Some substitutions work well, like Aldo tortilla chips for Doritos if you’re making nachos, but the report tries to reflect that you don’t want to feel like beggars can’t choose. But the prices are so high that Heinz beans are a luxury.”
Tracking the price of these purchase lists between December 2021 and December 2022, the report found an increase of 16.5% for smaller families and 13.5% for large families. While discretionary products such as sweets and crisps grew by 9% during this period, fruit and vegetables grew by an average of 20% and dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt by 29%.
After estimating family income from the case study, shopping lists would currently cost between 25% and 37% of this amount, after housing costs.
There were also significant differences in the price of fruit and vegetables across Scotland, exacerbated in rural areas by a lack of accessible public transport.
While the report found that low-income families value and prioritize sharing meals together, meal preparation decisions were more influenced by busy schedules – such as the need to balance making a pot of soup from scratch on the weekend with easy pasta after picking up. kids playing sports after school – not a lack of cooking skills.
The challenges of cooking for children with different aptitudes are also explored. As another councillor, Victoria from East Lothian, said: “It’s all very well if you look at the Eatwell guidelines [from Food Standards Scotland] but how do you translate that into meals your kids will actually eat? We also talked about how not every week is the same: sometimes you don’t have the energy to cook from scratch, or maybe you have a birthday you want to celebrate.
More broadly, the report takes on what the “right to food” looks like in the midst of an economic crisis – after passing the Nation’s Good Food (Scotland) Bill last year, the Holyrood government said it planned to include the right to food in its human rights bill, which is expected to be published for consultation in the coming months.
Director of Nourish Scotland, Pete Ritchie, said: “This project is about making the right to food real – something you can see, taste and measure. We asked people to describe a good enough diet for a typical 21st century Scottish family – and looked at how much it costs in the current crisis. Until every household can afford and access enough good food, we have more work to do to realize the right to food in Scotland.”