From sugar to eggs: what our food basket says about our income
The house-help is on leave and I’m in the market for six eggs, making an infrequent visit to buy the EBE (everyone buys everyday) goods. How much? I ask. Paanch kam tees. 25 bucks? I need six and not a dozen, I correct; your numbers are wrong, you mean half that, right? The little boys on the makeshift wooden plank that doubles as a shop counter at the corner of the Mother Dairy booth break into giggles. Abhi bahar se aiye hai (she’s come from out of town), they joke. The joke is on me in more ways than they mean. The most obvious one is that the price of eggs has more than doubled in the last year and I’m oblivious of it. The deeper irony is that I forgot all that I learnt in postgraduate economics while living my everyday life. I know that per capita income in India is up about three times over the last 15 years, but I forgot that as incomes grow, two things happen. The proportion of food in the overall consumption basket shifts to non-food goods. And within the food basket, sugar and cereal get replaced by proteins in a low per-capita country such as India that is still grappling with mass poverty.