Rising food prices are changing what we eat reveals new global food survey

Published: 15th June 2011

World statesmen, actors and musicians start global conversation on food

People across the world are changing what they eat because of the rising cost of food according to a new global survey released today as part of the GROW campaign. Agriculture Ministers from the powerful group of G20 countries are meeting in France next week and will discuss the global food price crisis.

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

54 per cent of overall respondents and a majority of people in most countries surveyed said they are not eating the same food as they did two years ago – the period before the current food price crisis began. Globally 39 per cent of those who said their diet had changed blamed the rising price of food and 33 per cent cited health reasons.

In Kenya, for example, a staggering 76 per cent of respondents said they have changed their diet with 79 per cent blaming the price of food and, of the 46 per cent of people who said their diet had changed in the UK, 41 per cent said it was because of the rising price of food. Similar results were found across the globe (see notes).

The biggest food worry: cost

Cost was also by far the biggest food worry with 66 per cent of people globally citing it as one of their top concerns. 43 per cent of people said that the healthiness or nutritional value of the food they ate was also a key concern. However in poorer countries the availability of food was much more of an issue with 57 percent of people in Kenya and 45 percent in Tanzania citing it as one of their biggest food worries.

Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam said: “Our diets are changing fast and for too many people it is a change for the worse. 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. World leaders – especially leaders of the powerful G20 countries – must act now to fix our broken food system. They must regulate the commodity markets and reform flawed biofuels policies to keep food prices in check, and they must invest in small scale producers in developing countries and help them adapt to a changing climate.

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. The only exceptions are African nations where traditional meals of maize and other staples continue to hold sway.

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

Women disproportionately affected

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 family’s 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.”

Celebrities join the GROW campaign

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.

Former President Lula of Brazil said: “Like many Brazilians I like nothing better than a plate of rice, beans, steak, onions and eggs. But like many in Brazil I have experienced hunger. There were many times when I woke in the morning with no bread for breakfast and nothing to look forward to for lunch. That part of my life was very important because it gave me the strength to survive and determination to fight for an end to world hunger. It’s not acceptable that a child ever goes without a daily glass of milk. It’s not acceptable that a child has less than three meals a day. These are fundamental rights.”

“Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and one of our most basic human rights. It’s important we all get involved in the debate about how to change the way we grow and share food so everyone has enough to eat today and tomorrow. Oxfam’s GROW campaign is inviting people to join the debate now at www.oxfam.org,” said Hobbs.

Read more

> Pizza, pasta or paella? More about the world's favorite foods

> Oxfam's GROW campaign

Our diets are changing fast and for too many people it is a change for the worse.
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director of Oxfam

Notes to editors

GlobeScan Research

A detailed breakdown of the results globally and by country is available for download.

Download the GROW Campaign 2011– Global Opinion Research – Final Topline Report (PDF, 2.7MB)

In total 16,421 citizens in 17 countries, were interviewed online, by telephone, and by face-to-face between 6 April and 6 May 2011. The survey was conducted for Oxfam by the international research consultancy GlobeScan. The majority of the countries were surveyed online, while a few participated through telephone or face-to-face interviews. Online samples were structured to be representative of the online population in the country in question; in some countries this profile will differ from the national population profile due to lower levels of internet connectivity. Results of this research are considered accurate to within 2.1 to 4.4 percent (depending on the country) of the true incidence in the population in question, 19 times out of 20 in each of the 17 countries.

Breakdown of Opinion Poll Findings on Changing Diets

(all figures are percentages)

Country Percentage of people who are no longer eating the same foods they did two years ago Percentage of people who have changed their diet because of rising food prices Percentage of people who have changed their diet because of health concerns
Global 53 39 33
Kenya 75 79 4
South Africa 69 37 47
Mexico 65 54 26
Guatemala 61 48 26
Australia 62 39 36
India 56 13 59
Pakistan 57 44 32
Russia 57 31 12
USA 55 31 49
Brazil 55 34 31
Tanzania 47 49 21
Spain 46 45 29
UK 46 41 36
Ghana 42 32 38
Philippines 42 26 56
Germany 37 25 32
Netherlands 36 30 18

Top ten favorite foods globally

Top 10 favorite foods globally: pasta (9 per cent), meat (6 per cent), rice (5 per cent), pizza (5 percent), chicken (5 per cent), fish and seafood (4 per cent), vegetables (3 per cent), Chinese food (2 per cent), Italian food (2 per cent) and Mexican food (2 per cent)

Top three foods by country

Australia Chocolate Pasta Steak
Brazil Lasagne Rice/pilaf/risotto Pasta
Germany Noodles Pizza Pasta
Ghana Fufu* Rice Banku*
Guatemala Chicken Pizza Chinese
India Indian Rice/pilaf/risotto Biryani
Kenya Ugali* Mixture Ugali and vegetables
Mexico Mexican Chinese Mole*
Netherlands Pasta Chinese Pizza
Pakistan Vegetables Meat Chicken Biryani
Philippines Chicken Filipino* Vegetables
Russia Meat Potatoes Salad
South Africa Pasta Pizza Steak
Spain Paella Pasta Rice/pilaf/risotto
Tanzania Banana and meat* Rice and meat Rice and beans
UK Steak Pasta Chicken
USA Pizza Steak Chicken
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Celebrity and public quotes and footage

Written interviews and pictures and broadcast quality footage of interviews with Gael Garcia Bernal, Archbishop Tutu, Former President Lula of Brazil, other high profile supporters and members of the public from around the globe on food (favorite food, food worries etc) is available for download.

A transcript of the video, pictures of the celebrities and further case studies from around the globe are also available.

Gael Garcia Bernal, Oxfam Ambassador and Mexican actor said:

“My favorite food comes from the sea. In Mexico, there are amazing places where you can eat seafood – where it’s very fresh as it has just been caught. My biggest food worry is the massive exploitation of natural resources such as fish. It is shocking to realize how much the price of fish has risen lately. The way that industrialized fishing operates is terrible. There aren’t many places where fishing is done in a way which protects fish stocks for future generations.”

There shouldn’t be a single hungry person – let alone 1 billion – in a world which is capable of feeding us all. With decades of progress against hunger swinging into reverse and environmental crisis putting millions more at risk we have to say enough is enough. That's why I am supporting Oxfam's GROW campaign in demanding that the food companies and governments who run our broken food system change the way they operate so that no one goes hungry today or tomorrow."

Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“I love food, its part of my culture and heritage. The global system for producing and sharing food is broken – there are close to 1 billion hungry people world wide Imagine if food could talk. What would your rice tell you about where it came from? What would your coffee beans say about who grew them and how would your potatoes describe their journey to your plate? We have to make sure the journey from plot to plate is fair and sustainable so everyone always has enough to eat. That’s why I am joining Oxfam’s Grow Campaign.”

Angelique Kidjo, Oxfam Ambassador and West African musician said:

“I know what it is like to go to bed with no food in your belly because I come from a poor country and a poor family. The most we had to eat when we went to bed was some bread and some tea and there were days that went by without me having food. Being hungry isn’t funny. It is just like someone put fire in your belly. It’s a feeling I do not wish anyone to experience because it’s not human, it’s not normal, it’s not acceptable.”

“We waste food everywhere in the world because our life is too fast. I see so much waste that it breaks my heart. I say to myself how many families could be fed with this in Africa?

“I am part of the Grow campaign because of I want to eat good, because I have a child, because I want to be a grandmother – what are my grandchildren going to eat. I think we all have a responsibility to follow this campaign and to change our eating habits. It’s just a little thing but can make a huge impact on the future of this planet.

“I have many favorite foods because I love food and I love to cook. I cannot live without rice because I am African. We eat a lot of rice in Africa. Personally I love fish, rice, vegetables and plantain.”

Julie Goodwin, Australian cook and winner of Australian Masterchef said:

“The important factors for me when I am choosing food for my family is that it has got to be healthy, it has got to be nutritious, I like it to be fresh, and I don’t like to serve them a lot of processed food. The other important thing for me is that it grown locally. We have grown used to things being available all year. We demand produce which is out of season and therefore it has to be shipped in. If we can learn to use what is in season then I believe that would have a positive impact on the environment and the people of the world.”

Hai Qing, Oxfam Ambassador and Chinese actor said:

“My favorite food is natural rice from China and green vegetables. I fear that one day my kid will not get a chance to taste this kind of rice because the climate change has made the weather very unstable.

“It is important for my child to know there are still so many kids his age who are still suffering hunger.”

Dolf Jansen, Oxfam Ambassador and Dutch Comedian, said:

“I come from a big family. Every evening we ate together. I have two big concerns about food. One that there already is not enough food in many parts of the world yet in my own country and in many others we are used to having enough food on the table each day and throw away far too much. It’s strange how normal it is for us to bin 10 to 20 percent of our food because we don’t like it anymore or it’s past expiry date and in other parts of the world there isn't enough food to eat. That irritates me. My other concern is what we eat, for example by eating meat we consume much more than others can. I find that quite worrying. The whole system cannot continue this way.”

Amr Waked, Oxfam Ambassador and Egyptian Actor said:

“A billion people go to sleep hungry every night and the problem is getting worse. The global population is growing but food production is not keeping pace and food prices are rising. At the same time natural resources are depleting and climate change is impacting people’s ability to grow crops. It doesn’t help that up to half of all food grown either gets thrown away or left to rot.

“Oxfam’s grow campaign is campaigning for a better future. Grow is a campaign for all of us who produce, buy, cook, and eat food. We are all in this together. It’s easy for us to feel that solutions are out of our hands but they’re not. Every time we choose food produced safely, fairly and sustainably; every time we harvest what we’ve sown; every time we use up leftovers; and every time we press governments and companies to change their ways we’re actually helping make good things grow.”

Stephen Kanumba, Tanzania actor said:

“Our mothers and our sisters spend their lives toiling the land that they do not own, often without financial or technical support and amidst uncertainty of changing rain patterns and markets. They carry the harvest on their backs and store them in their backyards. They spend their day preparing and cooking the food that they often they can’t eat until others are fed. This is not fair and it’s not sustainable in the 21st century! A fair food system is possible – one that is more equal and more sustainable. All of us have a role to play in make it happen. Let us remove this injustice within our families as we change the global food system to become fair to all. This is why I support the GROW campaign, and why you should too.”

“I’m so much in love with the rice and meat, but when I think about climate change I get worried because I can’t live without rice and meat and I can’t live without water. I can’t, this climate change is driving me crazy.”

Oxfam is an international confederation of 15 organizations working together in 98 countries and with partners and allies around the world to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.

GlobeScan Incorporated is an international opinion research consultancy. We provide global organizations with evidence-based insight to help them set strategy and shape their communications. Companies, multilateral institutions, governments and NGOs trust GlobeScan for our unique expertise across reputation management, sustainability and stakeholder relations. GlobeScan conducts research in over 90 countries, is ISO 9001-2008 quality certified and a signatory to the UN Global Compact. Established in 1987, GlobeScan is an independent, management-owned company with offices in Toronto, London, San Francisco, and Washington DC. www.GlobeScan.com

Contact information

Anna Mitchell, Oxfam: +44 1865 339 157, +44 7796 993 288 or anna.mitchell@oxfaminternational.org