Food prices have risen sharply since the beginning of the Ukraine war. Regardless of whether it is fruit, vegetables or dairy products – consumers have to dig much deeper into their pockets. So it makes sense to fall back on 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 keep misleading consumers. In an interview with the star, he explains why the price increase in the supermarket also has something good, how one still eats well and sustainably and why he considers sugar to be the "worst drug in society".
Mr. Lege, following your show, one has the feeling that the food industry is cheating wherever it can. What actually happened in the past 50 years that we have to pay so much attention to the ingredients in our food today? German society has jumped on the discounters' "cheap is cool" mentality. In addition, there were clever producers who recognized: There is a people who want cheap, they want a lot, so we are now making the right products for it. A certain buying emotion 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 evil sickle swinging over us.
Is this a purely German problem? There are discounters and price-conscious customers in other countries, too. But not as extreme as here – and not in the price structure. The discounter principle is a German invention and it is precisely these chains that set the tone on the market. If Aldi makes milk 10 cents more expensive tomorrow, everyone else will follow suit.
Because of the Ukraine war, we have exactly this situation: food prices have risen sharply in the past few weeks. That's great - I think a piece of pork should cost 20 euros. It is easy to eat a varied and varied diet, i.e. in such a way that all the necessary vitamins and minerals come together. All you have to do is adapt to the seasons and local products and consume as few imports as possible.
Does that mean our groceries have been too cheap all these 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's why I think it's good that prices are going up, because one or the other has to rethink things now. There is a certain awareness when dealing with food.
Is it still possible to eat cheaply and sustainably in Germany? Yes, of course you can. By dealing with it. You can see where the nearest farm shop is. If you want to eat more cheaply, there are also saved foods or second-choice vegetables. Everyone can hold their own nose and ask themselves: Can I preserve, salt or boil something? You just have to invest time and deal with your diet.
What do you say to people who are currently realizing that food prices are rising: I can't afford fruit and vegetables. A can of ravioli in a discount store costs just under one euro. At least it fills you up. Sure, but the nutritional value of the can of ravioli is also rubbish. You don't feed yourself with it, you just keep yourself alive with it. This only supplies you with energy, but no nutrients. It's just a double-boiled fat-starch combination with lots of sugar - nothing more.
For many people, improper nutrition is sheer laziness. If I take a sack of potatoes and a sack of carrots, both local products, and maybe a cheap sausage, then I can use them to cook a wonderful stew. And if I then make sure that I stock up on one or the other, I can use it to cook sustainably and cheaply.
What exactly should one pay attention to? The question is: What does a person need? First of all, humans need an energy supplier – via carbohydrates. These are potatoes, pasta, rice, or legumes. Also local vegetables: apples, carrots, onions, cabbage or beetroot. It's all local growth, it's not expensive. You just have to deal with it.
Why is that? Our food is based on fat-starch combinations made to go to industrial labor. The German was a worker, he was industrious, he was productive. This is exactly what our food was made for: Quickly digestible, quick energy. There is no profound culinary emotionality like in France or Italy.
Hasn't that changed in recent years? Food blogs have grown a lot in the past few years.Yes. Thanks to the internet and social media, everyone here now wants truffles and US 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 about it? Be the cool one – back to the roots. We have to deal with very simple things. For example, baking bread. This emotional, the self-made and also the success that one achieves with it give a completely different mentality.
Increased raw material prices are also a burden for manufacturers. Should we now expect the industry to use even more tricks? No, it doesn't matter which raw material you use - everything is getting more expensive. It's no use for the producers to cheat either. There used to be such deceptive packaging, in which inexpensive raw materials were made into an expensive product. Producers can no longer afford that. In particular, the Internet has made transparency much greater.
If it absolutely has to be a ready-made product - which one can you buy without too much hesitation? I would buy a frozen product. By freezing, the producers can save a lot of additives and higher nutritional values remain in the dish. There are brands that advertise being completely free of flavorings and preservatives. That's 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 are doing. What did you mean by that? People need to be aware of the sugar high they're ingesting by itself. That drives people crazy. Sugar is society's worst drug. People who drink these sodas every day are like junkies. There is no one who can stop it overnight if they drink a lot of lemonade.
What could be done about it? Politicians would have to tax sugary sodas more heavily than cigarettes. That would put a stop to it.
Does this also apply to supposedly healthier fructose? Products such as so-called “squeezees” for children have come in for a lot of criticism. Yes! I always explain to my friends what kind of crap they give their kids. These are highly concentrated fruit purees. They have more sugar than a coke! If I want to turn my kid into a junkie, I'll give him some Quetschies.
Isn't that a bit harsh? When moms and dads say the kid will stop crying when they give him this, I always say yes of course because he just got a full blast and a big grin on his face Has. We drug our children when we give them something like this.
Does it make sense to switch to light products? No! Light is even worse. This is how you fool your body. Sugar substitutes, for example, simulate the intake of sugar - which is even twice as bad. With these things I always say: stay away and eat or drink half instead.