Fast food does not cure hunger where it is too expensive | On the front line | future planet

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About 690 million people, that is, about 9% of the world’s population, suffer from hunger. These figures correspond to the 2020 Report on the State of Food and Nutritional Security in the World, and their tendency is to increase. There is a widespread perception that urban areas are less food insecure than rural areas due to the variety of foods available in supermarkets, traditional markets, restaurants and fast food outlets. But the abundance of food in cities does not mean that everyone has the same economic opportunities to access healthy food and can afford it.

The 1996 World Food Summit defined food security as a situation in which “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to food that is safe, nutritious and sufficient to meet their nutritional needs and food preferences, and so lead an active and healthy life.

In Ghana, urban poverty is lower than the national average – 10.6% versus 24.2% – but many city dwellers cannot afford to eat enough. One study found that 36% of urban households were hungry, with 29% and 5% respectively skipping or postponing meals. Currently, the food culture in urban Ghana is shifting towards fast food consumption, with what this means for the local food culture. However, few studies have analyzed these implications.

For my part, I am researching the food systems and food-eating cultures that are emerging in Ghana. In a paper published last year, my colleagues and I set out to understand the social and demographic dynamics tied to fast food consumption in the country. We found that it was influenced by many factors, including gender, age, marital status, lack of time, ability to cook, and income level. Our study contributes to the understanding of the sociocultural forces involved in fast food consumption in Ghana.

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Fast food in urban areas of Ghana

The research was based on the review of previous works on this subject in the country. We review the literature on the sociocultural dynamics and characteristics of consumers of this kind of diet in Ghana. Fast food is increasingly widespread in urban areas of the country through restaurant, takeaway and delivery services.

Catering in general is the largest sector of the Ghanaian economy, and its growth is also the fastest, growing at a rate of 20% per annum. Although this rate is expected to continue, the presence of food is not the only thing that matters in terms of food security. Other considerations are affordability and a healthy diet.

Our study revealed that income level determined how often Ghanaians visited fast food outlets. We found that people with medium and high incomes were the main consumers. They are Ghanaians who have a job or run a business, and often have the means to spend on new lifestyles that include this type of consumption. High-income customers could purchase it at least once a week, including occasions and holidays, regardless of price.

People with low incomes used to consume it only on festive and special occasions. For the very poor it was not affordable even on holidays unless it was a gift, mainly because fast food is expensive in Ghana.

For example, in most restaurants a medium pizza costs an average of 50 Ghanaian cedis ($8). The daily minimum wage is 12.53 cedis ($2.07). This high price is largely attributed to the investment and overhead costs—such as taxes, electricity, newspapers, advertising, rent, air conditioning, and security—that restaurants bear. In addition, the establishments rely heavily on imported raw materials such as rice, chicken, tomato paste, flour and other ingredients.

In most Ghanaian restaurants, a medium pizza costs an average of 50 Ghanaian cedis ($8). The daily minimum wage is 12.53 cedis ($2.07)

Based on the findings of our study, it is important to note that although fast food is physically available in urban areas, not all Ghanaians have the same affordable access to it. Consequently, its proliferation in the country would not allow the poor to have guaranteed food. Our work has implications for policies aimed at promoting food security in urban Ghana.

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Fast food as a lifestyle

In the developed world, fast food is cheaper than in the developing world. In the countries of the former, fast food brands tend to target low socioeconomic groups by offering menus at very low prices.

The situation is different in Ghana. Fast food brands target middle and high income groups that have the income to adopt so-called modern lifestyles, including frequent consumption of fast food. Consequently, in this country the people who can afford to buy it are those whose food is already assured.

Taking as a reference the cultural changes that this kind of diet has caused in developed countries, I foresee that, in the future, the poor of Ghana will be able to afford it. Prices will drop when the restaurants that serve it compete with each other. This will expand economic access to it in Ghana, but will also increase the number of people exposed to its health hazards.

The Conversation

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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