Globescan Survey: Rising food prices are changing what we eat

By Ben Grossman-Cohen

Washington, DC- People across the world are changing their diet because of the rising cost of food reveals a global opinion poll conducted by the independent research firm GlobeScan and released by Oxfam today as part of its GROW campaign to ensure everyone always has enough to eat.  Agriculture Ministers from the powerful group of G20 countries, including USDA Secretary Vilsack, are meeting in France next week and will discuss the global food price crisis. 

“What we eat is changing fast and for too many people it is changing for the worse,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America.  “Huge numbers of people, especially in the world’s poorest countries, are cutting back on the quantity or quality of the food they eat because of rising food prices. President Obama, leaders in Congress and the private sector must act now to fix our broken food system by calming the commodity markets, helping small farmers build resilience to climate change and investing in building economic opportunity for small-scale producers in the world’s poorest countries.  ”

The independent poll was conducted in 17 countries around the world including, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, UK and the USA.

  • 54% of people questioned globally and 56% in the US said they are not eating the same food as they did two years ago.  Globally 39% of people said their diet had changed because food is becoming too expensive and 33% cited health reasons.   In the US 31% of people cited the cost of food and 49% cited health reasons.
  • The rising cost of food was by far the biggest food worry with 73% of Americans and 66% of people globally citing it as one of their top concerns.  43% of people in the US and globally said that the healthiness or nutritional value of the food they and their families ate was also a key concern.
  • In poorer countries the availability of food was a much bigger concern with 57% of people in Kenya and 45% of people in Tanzania saying it was one of their top concerns.
  • 8% of Americans surveyed said that they sometimes, rarely or never had enough to eat on a daily basis.  This is compared to one in five people surveyed in developing countries such as Pakistan, Kenya, Ghana, Mexico, India, and Guatemala, who said that they sometimes, rarely or never had enough to eat on daily basis.  In very poor countries such as Tanzania and Kenya up to 21% of people said they rarely or never had enough to eat.  
  • Rising oil and transport costs and the impact of extreme and erratic weather were most frequently mentioned by Americans as the main factors affecting food supply.
  • Pizza is the most popular food in the US, with 15% of Americans listing it as their favorite followed by steak, chicken and Mexican food.

The survey of over 16,000 people, conducted by international research consultancy GlobeScan, also revealed how globalization is changing what people eat with pizza and pasta topping the list of favorite foods in many countries alongside national dishes. But the results also show the enduring importance to people around the world of staples like rice and wheat in the global food system, and of national cuisines in many countries.

“The consequences of the world-wide rise in food prices are very apparent in these survey results,” said Oliver Martin, Research Director of GlobeScan.  “The cost of food is by some distance the dominant concern that people have about what they and their family eat.”

Additional interviews conducted by Oxfam provide further evidence that many people in developing countries are either eating less food, eating cheaper items or enjoying less diversity in their diets as a result of rising food prices.  Women tend to be disproportionately affected by rising food prices because they are responsible for feeding their families. 

Glenda Marisela Galindo Castro, a 22 year old shop assistant from Guatemala said: Sugar used to be the most important thing for us.  We added it to our coffee and to soft drinks but now we can’t because the price of sugar has gone up. Oil which used to cost 5 quetzals for half a liter now costs 8.  I’m the only one who works and the wages I earn are not enough to cover my families’ needs. 

Edson James Kamba, aged 69, from Malawi said: “My favorite food is rice with beans and meat but it is very expensive. The price of food keeps going up. I would like some milk to drink but I can’t buy it. I used to have margarine and jam with bread but now I can’t afford it. When I see people on TV they are always eating very good things like meat, chicken and eggs. If I was there I would have those things. We want it but we can’t afford it.”

Oxfam’s GROW campaign is starting a global conversation on how we can grow and share food better now and in the future. High profile people involved in the debate include former President Lula of Brazil, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, musician Angelique Kidjo from Benin and actors Gael Garcia Bernal from Mexico, Amr Waked from Egypt and Hai Qing from China and author Frances Moore Lappe from the US. 

“The tragedy is that anxiety over food prices is soaring at a time of overall strong global harvests,” said Frances Moore Lappé author and Oxfam Sister on the Planet. “What’s sadly missed is some great news—that the hungriest people are actually part of the solution to both hunger and climate change. Millions of small farmers worldwide are proving they can increase yields using ecological practices and at the same time store more carbon compared to chemical farming.”

“Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and one of our most basic human rights,” said Offenheiser.  “It’s important we all get involved in the debate about how to change the global food system so everyone has enough to eat today and in the future. Oxfam’s Grow campaign is inviting people to join the debate now at”

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