Food prices continue to rise. The temptation to look for low-cost off-the-shelf products is great. Food expert Sebastian Lege warns of this and even sees an opportunity in the price increase.
Food prices have risen sharply since the start of the Ukraine war. Regardless of whether it is fruit, vegetables or dairy products, consumers have to reach deeper into their pockets. Therefore, it makes sense to turn to cheap ready meals from the food industry. But is that the solution?
Sebastian Lege is a food expert and product developer. In his ZDF program “Die Tricks der Lebensmittelindustrie” (“The Tricks of the Food Industry”), he shows how food producers continue to cheat consumers. In conversation with him star explains why there is also something good about price increases in supermarkets, how people continue to eat well and sustainably, and why they consider sugar to be the “worst drug in society”.
Mr. Lege, following your show, one gets the feeling that the food industry is cheating where it can. What really happened in the last 50 years that we now have to pay so much attention to the ingredients in our food?
German society has bought into the “cheap is cool” mentality of discount stores. In addition, there were smart producers who recognized: There are people who want cheap, they want a lot, so now we are making the right products for it. A certain buying excitement arose: the main thing is to take out a new lease for an even bigger car every two years, but food shouldn’t cost anything. In Germany, unfortunately, that is the sickle of evil that swings at us.
Is this a purely German problem? There are also discount stores and price-conscious customers in other countries.
But not as extreme as here, and not in the pricing structure. The discount principle is a German invention and it is precisely these chains that set the standard in the market. If Aldi makes milk 10 cents more expensive tomorrow, everyone else will do the same.
Due to the war in Ukraine, we now have exactly this situation: food prices have risen sharply in recent weeks.
Great, I think a piece of pork should cost 20 euros. It is easy to have a varied and varied diet, that is, in such a way that all the necessary vitamins and minerals come together. All you have to do is adapt to local seasons and products and consume as few imports as possible.
Does that mean our groceries have been too cheap over the years?
Of course they were too cheap. Compared to other industrialized countries, we are the country with the cheapest food. Where else can you get a kilo of pork neck for 2.30 euros? Probably nowhere. That is why it seems good to me that prices rise, because one or the other has to rethink things now. There is a certain conscience when it comes to food.
Is it still possible to eat cheaply and sustainably in Germany?
Yes, of course you can, dealing with it. You can see where the nearest farm store is. If you want to eat cheaper, there are also saved foods or second choice vegetables. Everyone can hold their nose and wonder: Can I preserve, salt or boil something? You just have to invest time and take care of your diet.
What do you tell people who are noticing that food prices are going up? I can’t buy fruits and vegetables. A can of ravioli at a discount store costs just under a euro. At least it fills you up.
Of course, but the nutritional value of the can of ravioli is also rubbish. You don’t feed on it, you just stay alive with it. This only provides you with energy, but not nutrients. It’s just a combination of fat and starch boiled twice with lots of sugar, nothing more.
For many people, inadequate nutrition is pure laziness. If I take a sack of potatoes and a sack of carrots, both local produce, and maybe a cheap sausage, then I can cook a wonderful stew with them. And if I then make sure to stock up on one or the other, I can use it to cook sustainably and cheaply.
What exactly should you pay attention to?
The question is: What do people need? First of all, humans need an energy provider, through carbohydrates. These are potatoes, pasta, rice or legumes. Also local vegetables: apples, carrots, onions, cabbage or beets. It’s all local growth, it’s not expensive. You just have to deal with it.
So, have we forgotten how to cook?
It was never learned and does not get excited at all in schools. The reasonable perception of food is not taught: touch, smell, taste: when is something good, when is it bad, when does something taste really good? These are sensory organs that are not trained at all. Our cuisine is bread and sausages, that’s why we are known all over the world. After that it gets really awful, with the exception of a few regional specialties.
Why is that?
Our diet is based on fat-starch combinations made to go to industrial work. The German was hard-working, he was industrious, he was productive. This is exactly what our food was made for: quickly digestible, quick energy. There is no deep culinary emotionality like in France or Italy.
Hasn’t that changed in recent years? Food blogs have grown exponentially in recent years.
Yes. Thanks to the internet and social networks, now everyone wants truffles and American meat, and the grill has to cost 2,000 euros. That divides society. Eating is becoming a luxury, a lifestyle product that not everyone can afford.
What can we do against it?
Be the cool one: go back to the roots. We have to deal with very simple things. For example, baking bread. This emotional, the fact itself and also the success that one achieves with it give a completely different mentality.
Rising raw material prices are also a burden for manufacturers. Should we now expect the industry to pull even more tricks?
No, it doesn’t matter what raw material you use, everything becomes more expensive. It also doesn’t do any good for producers to cheat. There used to be this kind of misleading packaging, where cheap raw materials were turned into an expensive product. Producers can no longer afford it. In particular, the Internet has made transparency much greater.
If it absolutely has to be a finished product, which one can you buy without much hesitation?
I would buy a frozen product. By freezing, producers can save a lot of additives and the highest nutritional values remain on the plate. There are brands that advertise being completely free of flavorings and preservatives. That is true, but they also have their price.
You said in an interview that when people buy a liter and a half of discount Coke for 39 cents, they need to know what they’re doing. What do you mean by that?
People should be aware of the sugar buzz they get from it. That drives people crazy. Sugar is the worst drug in society. People who drink these soft drinks every day are like drug addicts. There is no one who can stop you overnight if you drink a lot of lemonade.
What could be done about it?
Politicians should tax sugary soft drinks more than cigarettes. That would stop it.
Does this also apply to the supposedly healthier fructose? Products such as so-called “grips” for children have been the subject of much criticism.
Yes! I always explain to my friends what kind of shit they give their children. They are very concentrated fruit purees. They have more sugar than a coke! If I want to turn my son into a junkie, I’ll give him some Quetschies.
Isn’t that a bit harsh?
When moms and dads say that the child will stop crying when they give him that, I always say yes, of course, because he had a lot of fun and has a big smile on his face. We drug our children when we give them something like this.
Does it make sense to switch to light products?
Do not! The light is even worse. This is how you trick your body. Sugar substitutes, for example, simulate sugar intake, which is even twice as bad. With these things I always say: walk away and eat or drink half instead.