06 November, 2011

Fructose free III - at what cost?

I give great credit to Sacs in Westgarth. Formerly the wonderfully named Silly Yaks, this cafe and foodstore serves a full range of food suitable not only for a coeliac diet, but also for those avoiding fructose.

A range of breads, pasta and ready meals are available from the freezer, and the cafe offers pies, pizzas and sweets, all marked out as FF or GF. They even offer tarts with forbidden fructose-laden fruits, wherein the fruit has been cooked with dextrose, which binds with the fructose to carry it across the stomach wall, hence avoiding the deleterious effects of fructose malabsorption.

But...and this is a big but...their takeaway products are horrendously expensive. I ducked in this morning to look for some gluten-free breadrolls (pack of 4) so I could partake of burgers at home, as well as pastry to wrap around the mince we bought in readiness for sausage rolls. What would you expect to pay for two such pantry staples?


That's what the guy at the counter asked for. $10 for the rolls, $20 for the pastry. Most of their products aren't marked with a price, perhaps to avoid screams of the nature I swallowed as I calmly handed over enough food to feed myself for a week, in return for two pantry items. As I left the store, I imagined other uses for that $30. I could:

  • See two films at Nova as a RRR subscriber, and get a choc top
  • Buy one and half six packs of beer
  • Buy two bottles of very reasonable wine, or three bottles of Gran Sasso from that place on Lygon St
  • Travel to Yea and back, and back again, on the bus
  • When Tiger's in a good mood, fly to Tasmania
  • Buy three pairs of shoes from Green Collective
  • Revamp my summer wardrobe at Savers
  • Revamp my entire wardrobe at Salvos
  • Pick up a desk and drawers at Don Boscos
  • Eat at Don Dons five times
  • Get two courses and a glass of wine at innumerable Melbourne restaurants
Instead, for that money, I have two meal components, not even two complete meals.

Now, grumbling aside (and I confess that as I left the shop I was pretty grumpy), let's consider what this actually means. The food we stock our pantries with, despite protests to the contrary, is, in the main part, quite cheap. A large proportion of the population can't satisfactorily process a lot of wheat, yet white flour is a staple of our diet. It's cheap and easy to grow, harvest and mill, and it has just the right amount of stickiness - or gluten - that we've come to expect in everything from bread to muffins to pastry. And, thanks to monoculture farming, it keeps the costs of those types of products low.

So it's pretty scary when you step outside the protected world of mainstream groceries. Firstly, to discover how many alternatives there are - rice, tapioca, soy, barley, oat, buckwheat and maize flour to name some - and what the cost of production and distribution is when you don't have the back-up of a large corporation.

You can't just replace wheat flour one for one with another choice - to get a reasonable consistency you need a mix, so there is more involved in product development. And, not everyone likes it, so the market is smaller. However, not everyone likes stomach cramps and headaches after a sandwich either, so people like me who are trying to lessen health problems are faced with elevated costs for alternative items, in part because mainstream costs are kept so low.

Think about bananas. When they're $17 a kilo people get angry. But that's what they cost when supply is low. When they're $4 a kilo, noone's thinking about the fact that they're still travelling thousands of kilometres to fill the market in cooler climates. The cost of food isn't a static one, yet supermarkets push prices down on lead items as if they can control the weather. If stores stocked a range of bread products, the white flour options might cost a little more, but the alternatives would almost certainly cost a lot less.

I'm still thinking of other options for that $30, and while the cost will make the sausage sandwich I've got planned for lunch a little tougher to swallow, I can take some comfort from contributing to the possiblity of alternatives one day actually breaking into the mainstream. And the lack of physical symptoms afterwards will feel pretty good too.

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