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  • Writer's pictureBMS Journal

The community supermarkets exploiting vulnerable British Muslims during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

By Dr Suriyah Bi

As mainstream supermarket shelves continue to empty due to panic-buying, community supermarkets in largely Muslim areas, are exploiting the very communities they serve and that have sustained them for decades.

In Birmingham Hodge Hill, one of the poorest constituencies in the U.K., the price of flour, rice, vegetables, meat and cleaning products has in some cases increased by more than 150%. With Ramadan a month away, there are fears that such vulturous attempts to profit amidst the ongoing crisis, will continue.

In my personal attempts at locating food and groceries to little avail, I visited multiple supermarkets to purchase the household staples for Asian cooking. At each store, I was welcomed with basmati rice bags that were now being sold for £38.99, green chillies that were being sold for £15.99 per kilo, onion bags at £17.99, potatoes at £10.99, and meat at £6.99 per kilo. Such severe increases in prices will no doubt impact the way in which the community relate to their cultural foods which could have a knock-on effect on mental health, and the dietary consumption patterns required to maintain healthy immune systems to combat COVID-19. These price hikes are a public health issue, as they pose a severe risk to inflating both short term and long term mortality rates of an already vulnerable community, that is known to suffer from complicated health conditions such as diabetes and heart conditions.

Furthermore, in a time when 'self-isolation' and 'social distancing' already pierce the very fabric of many British Muslim family and community dynamics, due to no longer being able to congregate in mosques, meet family, friends and loved ones, the decomposing of social trust is difficult to digest. The impact of these price hikes therefore, extend far beyond the pocket, as they severely disrupt community trust which vulnerable minority communities have survived on for decades. Right now, social trust is something we desperately require to maintain healthy communities in such unprecedented times.

The following images of price hikes in local supermarkets are taken by me in Birmingham Hodge Hill between 13th and 21st March 2020.

1. Onions

In supermarkets such as Al Halal, Azad, Watan, Pak, the price of onion bags that are usually sold for £3-5, are currently being sold in some stores at £17.99. Onions are a staple to create the basis of most curries, so such price hikes will no doubt impact the way our communities perceive and relate to cultural foods (often sources of comfort) during such a vulnerable time.

2. Coriander

The crown jewel of garnishing curries, coriander which was usually sold in single bunches for 29 pence or four bunches for £1, is currently at £1 per bunch across the Hodge Hill constituency. Often a visible and decorative garnish for curries, rice dishes, and condiments, such price hikes could lead to a reduction in usage of the herb, destabalising the way food is presented, and therefore how it is related to in an already delicate time.

3. Green chillies

A staple for most households in the area, green chillis are used in curries, condiments, and many rice dishes. Devastatingly, some shops such as Mohammedis on Green Lane, Small Heath, are selling a kilo at £15.38. Such price hikes will certainly have an impact on the cultural taste palette of many British Muslims and Asians in the community, which will no doubt have a knock-on effect on many people's relationship to their cultural food, and could therefore have severe consequences for mental health.

4. Okra, Bitter Gourd and Potatos

Popular for vegetable curries, the price hikes in okra, bitter gourd and potatoes will no doubt have consequences for the vegetable consumption and dietary habits in the community. At a time when a good diet and healthy lifestyles are important to maintain strong immune systems to combat COVID-19, such price hikes could severely impact mortality rates in the community.

5. Garlic and Ginger

Popular to flavour curries, rice dishes, and condiments, often providing curries their rich scents, the price hikes in ginger and garlic could lead to a reduction in their purchasing. Such reductions lead to destablising the normality of scents and smells common to the community, which could at such as a vulnerable time, add to the panic and anxiety at the level on the subconscience, at the very least.

In some shops across the constituency, garlic was being sold for £2.59 per bulb (usually 18 pence) and ginger £3.99 per kg (usually £1.50).

6. Rice

Across the constituency, rice is being sold at more than 150% per its usual price with some stores flogging them at £33.99. As above, rice is also a staple dish often accompanying many curries and is a key ingredient in biryani (a rice dish). The unaffordability of rice, will no doubt impact food consumption across the community in a negative way at an already delicate time.

7. Meat and Fish

Across the constituency, meat and fish has in some cases, trebled from the original price pre-covid-19. In an already poverty stricken constituency, these hikes can have dire consequences for continuing healthy diets, crucial for maintaining strong immune systems.

As the images above demonstrate, the increased prices and profiting objectives of supermarket owners in British Muslim and Asian communities are rife. Sadly, this behaviour on the part of local community supermarkets is likely to compromise the health and immunity levels of an already vulnerable community, result in health complications, and contribute to rising mortality rates.

***Please note, the stores in question and their price hikes have been reported to the trading standards authority, and this piece has been sent to government officials and the department of health as the price hikes could have severe consequences for mortality rates in the community. If you see any price increases in food in local areas, please report them to your MP.

To cite this article please use the following format: Bi, S. 2020. The community supermarkets exploiting vulnerable British Muslims during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Journal of British Muslim Studies, Blog (1).

#CoronavirusPandemic #PriceHikes #Community #BritishMuslims #PanicBuying

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