Secondhand in Demand
June 17, 2019
“The Egyptian citizen doesn’t deserve defective food, because he is not a defective citizen,” a Ten at Night reporter insists to his Egyptian audience while airing an exposé on the growing demand for outdoor markets selling secondhand food at slashed prices.
Vendors purchase their goods—such as leftover cheese, expired pastries, and fish well past its prime—from factories, restaurants, and hotels. Not so long ago, such food was destined for pigs that were raised by Egypt’s large community of garbage collectors. Vendors now resell it to Egypt’s poor at heavily discounted prices. So-called secondhand food markets are increasingly common and can be found across Greater Cairo, from the Thursday market downtown to the Monday market in Giza.
Poor Egyptians have long relied on government-subsidized food. Beginning in 2016, the IMF encouraged, and the Egyptian government adopted, economic reforms that sharply trimmed the rolls of Egyptians eligible for food subsidies. Some say they now resort to these markets to make ends meet.
Markets for expired food products are also becoming more visible in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but they primarily serve expatriate workers. In Jeddah’s al-Sawarikh Market, foreign laborers search for the least-spoiled vegetables between stacked cans of expired goods. As one shopper explained to a reporter, “Saudis do not come here. Saudis are full.”
News reports warn of the immediate and long-term health risks of eating expired and contaminated food, but the poor say they have few alternatives. Government austerity and ten-year plans have not accounted for their needs, they say, and the markets are vital for their survival.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.