The Cost of Living crisis tastes like fear.
If hopelessness had a taste, it would taste like the cost-of-living crisis does to the poor. And to them it tastes like fear. I know this because I am not slumming it or remembering my struggles through poverty from long ago. I am poor, in the present dismal tense of the word, and I do not see that changing in my near future. Poverty will be my constant companion for the allotted time I have left. It’s not that I am not bright or industrious. It is just that I have illnesses and am close to sixty, so outside of writing I have few employment opportunities.
But being poor hasn’t dampened my curiosity or my keen sense of observation when it comes to either myself or others living life on the verge of needing a foodbank. During my descent into penury, I’ve noticed things I hadn’t noticed before about me, and those in similar circumstances to me.
For instance, desperation is acrid on the tongue and has a hint of fear in it that smells like unwashed perspiration. I’ve seen people with no teeth or broken teeth line up like thankful beggars when a dental office offers one free day a year for rudimentary dental work. Yet they are not political, and no political party bothers to mobilise them.
In this cost of living crisis era, the poor draw deep into their Neolithic DNA to survive. We search for food like ancient gathers, once did. But instead of constantly roaming across fields and savannahs in pursuit of sustenance during a draught our cost of living crisis keeps us fixed in our community. We the financially strapped flit from bargain shop to bargain shop trying to collect dried noodles, tuna, sweets, and tinned fruit, hoping we have enough to eat while we wait for our “ship to come in.” But many of us in this pursuit for bargain food don’t realise that most items presented as a price “deal,” aren’t. They are just smaller packages, pretending to be cheaper.
In our century and our society, food isn’t in shortage, it’s the decent wage that is in short supply. At this point, in my essay, I should be giving you statistics to show you how ordinary wages aren’t keeping up with inflation and that millions of people are on the cusp of insolvency-me being one of those millions. But I am not going to. It’s like a passenger on the Hindenburg, after lightning struck it, needing a scientist in thermodynamics to explain to them in real-time that they are fucked because they are crashing to the ground below in a hydrogen flame ball. By the way, 36% of the passengers perished in that tragedy.
Statistics in journalism today are not about giving us a better handle on a crisis, they are about the reader checking the numbers like they were the lottery to see if they are a victim of the economy or one of its few winners. I know I am not because snake eyes have been my roll since I was struck with cancer during the first tsunami of covid in 2020.
It's why I can’t remember the last time I had butter on decent bread. I’ve learned to make do with less of everything. I have even come to terms with low grade margarine and now accept it is both a Franken food and a staple of the economic class I belong to. It is cheap and has a look and consistency that can fool my eyes into thinking it is edible and even offer a few scraps of nutrition to my diet. But I am educated enough to know it doesn’t. Still, for all my insults against it, the margarine holds my cheap jam in place on my toast. It is also a handy substitute for cooking oil to fry chicken thighs or potatoes. Although, today's price of chicken makes me think it shouldn’t be just Ukraine that has air raid sounds warning of bombs about to drop because the gouging going on by billion-dollar food companies is on a scale that can only be described- as war profiteering. In any decent society, in any democracy, in any civilisation where the people held the levers of power, these profiteers from the covid pandemic, the supply chain crisis or the Russia Ukraine war would be tried and imprisoned for life. But, that is not going to happen because we are not in charge of our “We the People,” democracy.
The cost-of-living crisis has ushered in a new era of hunger, and with it will come more hate, fascism, racism, and violence. The rich know this, and they know, that if you are hungry and in constant pursuit of affordable food and housing, you have no time to rebel. They know that if your desperation doesn’t evolve into total hopelessness, you will take degradation, your fear of homelessness and hunger and suck it up because you still believe there is light at the end of your tunnel. It is not religion that is the opiate of the masses but hope. Neoliberals hooked society on the drug of hope along with cheap credit because if you believe that your hard work is to be rewarded with a better life for your kids, they got you hook, line and sinker, and you won’t demand real change. If you believe everything can right itself by paying fewer taxes or that if a country has fewer migrants, you are in line for a raise, you’ve taken their bait and won’t demand necessary change. It’s why; I see more people becoming like me, living on the cusp of ruin and trying to remember better days over a lunch of bread and margarine.