Rising prices threaten fish and chips, a traditional British food

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Fish and chips have been popular among Britons since the food was invented around 160 years ago.

Charles Dickens wrote about the plate in his well-known Oliver Twist story. Unlike other common foods, it was not rationed during the world wars.

But a third of fish and chip shops are at risk of closing their doors this year due to price pressure, says Company Debt, a business advisory firm.

Rising prices and inflation

In just one year, prices for fish, such as cod and haddock, have increased by 75%. Sunflower oil used for cooking has increased by 60% and even flour has increased by 40%.

Overall, inflation in Britain hit a 40-year high of 9% in April, the highest among the G7 countries. And it is expected to rise even higher.

At Hooked Fish and Chips in west London, Bally Singh is struggling to maintain sales of this traditional British dish. Fish and chips in Singh’s shop now cost almost £10, up from around £8 a year ago. And Singh said if he passed on all the higher costs, the price would be closer to 11 pounds.

“We’re struggling to keep our prices reasonable and competitive with other fast food outlets in the area, and we’ve actually seen a drop in sales of fish and clients walking through the door,” he said.

All difficulties

Some of the recent difficulties faced by fish and chips began with Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU). UK Fisheries, a fishing company, said that in 2022 Britain had to reduce its catch of Arctic cod to around 40% of what it was before leaving the EU.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven up fuel and electricity prices, further increasing the cost of catching and frying fish. The war sent cooking oil, fertilizer and higher flour prices, too.

Cod and haddock come from the Barents Sea, north of Norway and Russia. The war increased uncertainty about these supplies.

In March, the UK government classified Russian whitefish as a 35% taxable item in answer to the invasion of Ukraine. He has suspended the movement, for now, while the effects are studied.

Sunflower oil is the main agricultural product that Britain imports from Ukraine. The government says it is working to replace it with other vegetable oils such as rapeseed.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was “working closely with industry, including the National Fish Fryers Federation (NFFF), to mitigate the challenges they face”. To mitigate means to make something less harmful or less severe.

However, the federation said fish and chip shops are facing their biggest crisis ever. “I get daily phone calls from people who are worried about going bankrupt,” NFFF chairman Andrew Crook told Reuters.

Malcolm Petherick is 73 years old. He feared that the changes he saw in his lifetime would cause Britain to lose some of its cultural history.

“When I was growing up, it was a poor man’s meal,” he said of fish and chips. He added that he had just bought two orders of fish and chips for 23 pounds.

“What family can afford what?” He asked.

I am John Russell.

Alistair Smout reported this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

plate – nm foods prepared in a particular way

ration – v. controlling how much (something, like gas or food) people are allowed to have, especially when there isn’t enough

customer -not. someone who buys goods or services from a company

fertilizer — n. a substance (such as manure or a special chemical) that is added to the soil to help plants grow

answer – not. something done in reaction to something else

afford – v. to be able to pay (something)

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