Counting the Beans - The True Cost of a Plate of Food Around the World
1. THE COST OF A PLATE OF FOOD
If people go hungry, it is often because food is unaffordable: our world is riddled with disparities in the cost of basic nourishment.
In richer countries, most people spend a small part of their income on feeding themselves. In poorer nations, by contrast, buying the ingredients for a single meal can erase a significant portion of a person’s earnings. Where there is conflict or economic collapse, it can exceed these earnings outright.
In seeking to measure the “true” cost of a plate of food around the world, we have discarded nominal prices: when incomes are as polarized as they are, these tell us little. Instead, we have measured the proportion of daily income that a person in a developing or conflict-stricken country might spend on a basic plate of food.
We then retro-projected this ratio onto the income of a developed-nation citizen, such as a resident of New York State. So that while a New Yorker might expect to spend just 0.6 percent of their daily income on the ingredients to make a simple 600 kilocalorie bean stew, someone in South Sudan would need to spend as much as 155 percent of their income. Or, to approach it from the other end, it would be as if a resident of the Empire State were to pay US$321 for their stew.
We arrived at these figures in five steps.
1 A standard meal was put together – a stew made of beans or other pulses, paired with a carbohydrate component that matches local preferences. The quantity of each ingredient was worked out, and estimates made of the total weight of purchased food items and final edible weight of the meal.
2 The cost of the ingredients for a single serving was calculated in the national currency of each country covered.
3 An average daily budget per person was estimated in the local currency, derived from national GDP per capita figures. Where these were unavailable, we turned to alternative data sources.
4 The meal-to-income ratio was calculated, providing the proportion of the daily budget spent to purchase one serving of the meal.
5 A theoretical price was then calculated by retrospectively applying the mealto-income ratio for an individual in a developing country to the daily budget of a New York consumer.