The Hidden Cost Of Cheap Food

Every time I turn on the television and hear the supermarket moguls rolling off the latest set of bargains and boasting about the way they have slashed prices even further, my heart sinks. Far from being delighted by low prices, I think of the farmers and food producers who once more are being forced to produce food below its economic level by our unreasonable expectation that cheap food is our right. Cheap food is not our right and in reality the price of cheap food is far too high, both in health terms and in socio-economic terms. In fact when we refuse to pay producers a fair price for their produce we force them into an increasingly intolerable situation.
They are left with little option but to intensify further or go out of business altogether.
The result of this ever-increasing scenario is that we are all losers. The quality and flavour of the food drops because realistically whenever food is produced at the least cost, there are problems for man, beast and land.
Already we have seen the disastrous consequences of pushing animal and plant way beyond their natural limits for the past 20 years – BSE and stronger and stronger strains of salmonella, camphylobactor and E-coli. Where will it end?
Instead of relentlessly squeezing farmers and food producers, the government and supermarkets and all food departments ought to come together to educate the public about how real food is produced and why if it is to be wholesome and health-giving, it needs to cost a reasonable price.
Now there’s talk of a milk and bread war – cheaper bread doesn’t bear thinking about. How many of these wise boys in their suits in the supermarkets have any idea what a dairy farmer’s life is like, getting up at the crack of dawn to milk cows, rain, hail or snow and again at night, 365 days a year. Why shouldn’t these people expect to be paid a fair price for their milk, why should they have to subsidise our demand for cheap food? If we continue to make them work for virtually no return, who is to blame them when they decide to throw their hat at it. What then?- no milk and more and more people flocking into the already overcrowded cities.
Next time you pick up a ‘bargain’, think of the farmer and remember that the reality is that the more people we put out of business, the more it will cost us the taxpayers in the end.
Meanwhile, how about making your own bread. Soda breads are literally made in minutes.

White Soda Bread and Scones

Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20-30 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses. It’s also great with olives, sun-dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.
1 lb (450g/3¼ cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon breadsoda
Sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14 fl ozs (350-412 ml) approx.
First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 1½ inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

White Soda Scones

Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).
White Soda Bread with Herbs
Add 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) of freshly chopped herbs eg. rosemary or sage, thyme, chives, parsley, lemon balm to the dry ingredients and continue as above. Shape into a loaf or scones and bake as for soda bread.
Cheddar Cheese and Thyme Leaf Scones
Substitute thyme leaves for mixed herbs in above recipe.
Cheese Scones or Herb and Cheese Scones
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) grated mature Cheddar cheese
Egg wash
Make the White Soda bread or herb dough. Stamp into scones, brush the top of each one with egg wash and then dip into grated cheddar cheese, bake as for soda scones, or use to cover the top of a casserole or stew.
Rosemary and Olive Scones
Add 1½ tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary and 2 tablespoons roughly chopped stoned black olives to the dry ingredients and proceed as in the master recipe.
Rosemary and Sundried Tomatoes
Add 1-2 tablespoons (1½ – 2½ tablespoons) of chopped rosemary, 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) of chopped sundried tomatoes to the flour and continue as in the basic recipe. Form into a loaf of bread or scones.

Olive Scones

Make a white soda bread dough with or without herbs. Flatten into a 1 inch square. Dot the top with whole olives. Brush generously with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut into square scones and bake as above.
Brown Soda Bread and Scones
560g/1lb/scant 4 cups brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)
560g/1lb/4 cups) plain white flour
2 rounded teaspoons (10g/2 American teaspoons) dairy salt
2 rounded teaspoons (10g/2 American teaspoons) bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda) sieved
860g/1 pints approx./3 cups sour milk or buttermilk
First preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, make a well in the centre and pour all of the sour milk or buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well floured board. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches (5cm) approx. Sprinkle a little flour onto a baking sheet and place the loaf on top of the flour. Make with a deep cross and bake in a hot oven 230C/450F/regulo 8 after 15-20 minutes reduce the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 for approx. 20-25 minutes or until the bread is cooked (In some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking) It will sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
Note: One could add 30g/1 oz/ cup fine oatmeal, 1 egg and 30g/1 oz/ stick) butter to the above to make a richer soda bread dough.

Brown Soda Scones

Make the dough as above. Form it into a round and flatten to 4cm/1½ inch thick approx. Stamp out into scones with a cutter, or cut with a knife. Bake for about 30 minutes in a hot oven (see above).
Note: Bread should always be cooked in a fully pre-heated oven, but ovens vary enormously so it is necessary to adjust the temperature accordingly.
If a lighter bread is preferred, use 675g (1½ lbs g) white flour and 450g (1lb) brown wholemeal flour.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes