Egypt's Killer Cuisine: The Public Health Toll of Rising Food Prices
October 26, 2017
Rising food prices in Egypt are forcing changes in traditional diets and raising serious health concerns.
Egypt does not have the most famous Middle Eastern cuisine, but few would call it lethal. That may be changing. Despite efforts to reform Egypt’s extensive food subsidies, rising prices are pushing many Egyptians toward unhealthy diets.
Although Egypt is on the Mediterranean, Egyptians are moving further away from the so-called “Mediterranean diet” of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and healthy oils. After the Egyptian pound was floated a year ago, it crashed to half its prior value. Exporters of fruits and vegetables suddenly got twice as many Egyptian pounds for their fresh produce, but for middle- and lower-class Egyptians, prices spiked. Tomatoes, for example, tripled in cost.
Overall, food prices leapt by 46 percent. Feeling squeezed, Egyptian consumers turned to the traditional subsidized commodities of bread, sugar, white rice, pasta, and oil. An effort in the last five years diversified the foods that can be purchased at subsidized prices, but it is not getting much traction. The obesity rate in Egypt is over 35 percent, and seems set to rise.
Cheap restaurant meals are no longer so cheap either. Koshary, the reliable mix of rice, lentils, pasta, tomato sauce, and fried onions that is popular in Cairo, is skyrocketing in price. At Koshary Abou Tarek, Cairo’s most famous outlet, prices for a small dish jumped 60 percent in two months in early 2017, and prices for the “jumbo” climbed 36 percent to 30 Egyptian pounds. While under the new exchange rate the jumbo is now $1.70, the World Bank estimated that 85 percent of Egyptians lived on less than $5 a day in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East. It appeared originally in the CSIS Middle East Program newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment.