The alarming rise of food shares
- A version is that the poorer a family, “the greater the proportion of the total outgo which must be used for food.
- The proportion of the outgo used for food, other things being equal, is the best measure of the material standard of living of a population.
Rise in food shares
- Yet, subsistence food requirements had to be met. Amidst the misery, food prices spiked as there was speculative hoarding by food sellers and ‘panic buying’ by consumers.
- The lockdowns resulted in a sharp rise in food share across rural and urban India and among all socioeconomic groups comprising various castes and religions, but at different rates.
- Among SC households in rural areas, the food share ranged from 46% to 54% before March 2020. However, it surged to about 64% in April 2020 coinciding with the first national lockdown.
- Similar trends were observed among STs, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Others. In urban areas, it was the OBCs and Others who saw a sharp rise.
- One reason for the opposing results in rural and urban India could be the shift of expenditure in urban areas by the upper castes to home-cooked food — a change in lifestyle forced by the lockdown and fear of the pandemic.
- The extent of contraction differed between rural and urban areas and among different castes. To illustrate, the food share of SCs recorded the sharpest contraction, followed by Others, STs and OBCs. In urban areas, the fall was steepest among the STs, followed by Others, SCs and OBCs.
- The shares of food among rural Hindu households ranged from 44% to 52% prior to March 2020, and among urban Hindu households from 40% to 49%.
- These shares spiked to over 61% and over 59% in April 2020, respectively.
- The shares of Muslims in rural areas ranged from 48% to 58%, and in urban areas from 45% to 52% prior to the first lockdown. They rose to about 66% and 62% in April 2020, respectively.
- lower amounts are spent on more nourishing foods such as fruits and vegetables; and other essential non-food items such as education and healthcare are neglected.
- Thus, spells of impoverishment during the pandemic were not infrequent, and lower castes and minorities bore the brunt of it.