Covid19's impact on eating

Gabrielle Hosein -
Gabrielle Hosein -


THIS WEEK I’m reading the World Food Programme Caribbean Covid19 Food Security and Livelihoods Impact Survey. Data for the survey was collected from January 25-February 12 and complemented previous surveys in April and June 2020. There were 4,186 respondents, 69 per cent of whom were female. Twenty-six per cent of responses were from TT.

It’s important to use data to support the stories we personally know about how people are or are not coping. Data allows us to track differences by class, age, sex, migrant status and geography, and to see how existing inequalities intersect the impact of the pandemic.

There is so much that’s valuable in this report, but I’m focusing on food consumption, because that’s going to be the most important issue of the next few months, though it’s hard to say when violence against women and child abuse, which are shadow pandemics, are also likely to increase.

I think there is also going to be a lot of household shifting as families find it harder to pay rent or fall into dire arrears. I also think this will especially affect children, whose development relies on safety and stability. But, for today, let’s talk about food.

The report reaches some clear conclusions. The first is that class matters – the majority of households with above- or well-above-average incomes report no difficulties eating enough.

By contrast, “households with informal sources of income (petty trade, casual labour) or relying on external support from government, family or friends appear to be most impacted with 55-61 per cent skipping meals, eating less than usual or not eating for an entire day.”

Among those in construction and agricultural sectors, 40-44 per cent of respondents reported skipping meals or eating less than usual. The same was reported by 35 per cent in retail trade, 33 per cent in tourism/hospitality and 30 per cent manufacturing.

We can correlate decreased food consumption with job and income loss, so knowing where that’s happening in our economy can allow us to target our response.

Interestingly, among respondents aged 25 or younger, 41 per cent skipped meals or ate less than usual. It’s significant if this is happening among the school-aged group in this population, for there is a direct correlation between nutrition and lower school performance and, among girls, vulnerability to coerced and early unions in exchange for food.

However, there were no significant sex differences in food consumption trends in the week prior to the survey. Against expectations about single-parent households, mixed households with extended family members reported being the most impacted.

Regarding a period of 30 days before the survey, 27 per cent of respondents reported running out of food, 41 per cent were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food, and 45 per cent worried they would not have enough food to eat. Those whose incomes are well below average are four-six times more likely to report food insecurity than those whose incomes are well above average. These are kitchen-table measures of Caribbean inequality.

There’s even a gap between those whose incomes are well below average and those just below average, suggesting that covid19 has had an exponential impact on the poorest. Forty per cent of households with incomes well below average reported having no food stock at all compared to 20 per cent of those with below-average incomes. No stock means not even a week of food in the house.

People in petty trades and informal/casual labour are the majority now buying in smaller quantities and cheaper or less preferred foods. People are also surviving on their savings, and on reduced expenditure on health and education.

Again, class inequality and youth vulnerability in our societies stand out. These two categories intersect, suggesting a youthful underclass may emerge from the pandemic hungry, precariously employed, without sufficient social protection, and alienated from responsibility for upholding an economically unequal status quo.

Spanish speakers represented one in five respondents, and 91 per cent of them were from TT. Typical of migrants, their situation is the most dire. Only seven per cent of Spanish-speaking respondents reported having more than a week’s worth of food stocks, compared to 54 per cent of English speakers.

In the 30 days prior to the study, compared to 21 per cent of English speakers, 50 per cent of this group ran out of food, and compared to 35 per cent of English speakers, 84 per cent of Spanish speakers worried that they would not have enough food to eat. One should feel compassion for those who risked their lives to escape from such situations at home.

Food insecurity shows the reality of existing and increasing disparity between the haves and have-nots in a time of covid19.

Diary of a mothering worker

Entry 417


"Covid19's impact on eating"

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