Milk from golden cows

For Latin America, and Brazil in particular, one of the most severe symptoms of the Covid hangover has been a tragic increase in hunger and food insecurity. In our special on Brazil’s desperate hunger epidemic, The Brazilian Report showed that having enough food to eat for a full day is rapidly becoming a privilege in the region’s biggest country, not a basic right.

Most recently, this plight has been exemplified by the humble carton of milk, one of the cornerstones of Brazil’s basic basket of food necessities. However, amid continuing economic woes and whirlwind inflation, a liter of cow’s milk is now costing up to BRL 10 (USD 1.92) in some cities — 42 percent more than in January and a drastic increase in a country where the minimum monthly salary sits just north of BRL 1,000.

Milk is seen as a crucial food item for developing youngsters, providing an important source of calcium to promote bone health. Now, supermarkets are stacking their shelves with liquid whey — packaged to look like milk — and other dairy substitutes of negligible nutritional value.

Condensed milk, a traditional ingredient in Brazilian sweets, has largely disappeared from stores, being replaced with imitation products beefed up with whey and starch.

According to a recent Datafolha poll, some 23 percent of Brazilians (almost 50 million people) have resorted to buying liquid whey, and an equal amount have resorted to similar cost-cutting measures such as purchasing “broken beans” and off-cuts of lunch meat.

And the issue goes beyond inflation. A lack of incentives for small farmers has led the number of dairy farmers in Rio Grande do Sul state to fall by half, for instance.

Alas, milk is just one of many food items that has seen prices go through the roof in Brazil over the last year, compounding the drama poor Brazilians face to feed their hungry families.