Dining Out Soars During Load Shedding: South Africa’s Shifting Food Landscape

Load shedding, the rolling blackout phenomenon plaguing South Africa, has had unintended consequences for the country’s dining landscape. While many businesses struggle to keep their lights on during power outages, certain sectors have actually seen a boost in their fortunes. Restaurants, takeaway outlets, banks, and alternative energy suppliers are among the companies that stand to benefit from the ongoing load shedding situation.

Report Reveals Increased Dining Out

According to Discovery Bank’s SpendTrend23 report, which analyzes Visa data, South African consumers have increased their dining out and takeout expenditures in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels. Hylton Kallner, CEO of Discovery Bank, highlights that dining out and takeout spending has risen significantly, partly due to people returning to restaurants and the added factor of rolling blackouts driving individuals away from cooking at home.

Load Shedding’s Impact on Eating Habits

The impact of load shedding on eating habits extends beyond increased dining out. When rolling blackouts reach stages 5 and 6, people eat out 60% more, as revealed by the report. Many consumers face difficulties preparing meals at home during power outages, particularly if they lack a gas stove for alternative cooking methods. The perishability of food, especially items stored in the fridge, further limits home cooking options.

Health Implications and Alternative Solutions

The Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) raises concerns about the potential health implications of this new dining trend. Registered dietitian and ADSA spokesperson Zitandile Mfono notes that load shedding disrupts the positive trend of home cooking observed during the Covid lockdowns. This reversal of behavior coincides with the busiest time of day for meal preparation, affecting working parents in particular.

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The increased reliance on convenience foods during power outages leads to dietary changes that are detrimental to health, as these options tend to be high in fat, salt, and sugar. Considering South Africa’s high rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, these dietary shifts pose significant concerns.

ADSA suggests alternative solutions to navigate the challenges of load shedding:

  1. Invest in a “Wonder Cooker”: This heat-retaining wonder cooker, also known as a wonderbag, operates as a slow cooker without requiring electricity or gas. It can be used for various cooking methods and keeps food warm for extended periods.
  2. Consider a Gas Stove Backup: Acquiring a small, affordable gas stove provides a cooking alternative during power outages, without the need to replace the entire oven.
  3. Focus on Salads and Healthier Takeout Choices: Opting for salad-based meals and making healthier selections when ordering takeout can help mitigate the negative impact of increased reliance on convenience foods.

ADSA emphasizes that these adaptations are crucial for maintaining healthier eating habits and minimizing the financial burden associated with increased takeaway consumption.

As South Africa grapples with the challenges of load shedding, understanding its unexpected consequences on dining habits sheds light on the need for creative solutions to maintain a balanced and sustainable approach to food consumption.

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