One way I try to stay ahead of the gathering economic storm is to cast a net far and wide in a search for intelligence and useful information. Invariably, such efforts lead me to news reports about interesting developments overseas, which might not yet be on the mainstream media radar here in the United States. Today, I came across this article from NEWS.com.au, "Frugal Food Recession's Best-Seller," which details a trend that could become quite popular in the land of plenty in the immediate years ahead.
As the world struggles to come to terms with the financial crisis, the corner bookseller in London is witnessing an interesting sales phenomenon.
Retail sales figures are at their lowest levels in a decade, but one book type that is flying off the shelves is the cooking genre - specifically, cook books with step-by-step guides for cash-strapped families on how to rustle up a meal on a budget.
Savvy salesman Jamie Oliver was one of the first to see what was coming and introduced his Ministry of Food cook book and DVD series. Based on the bureaucratic department set up during World War II to deal with the food crisis, the book goes over the basics of food - from mince and onion pies to beef and carrot stews - and is now set to become a best-seller.
Then TV cook Delia Smith relaunched her Frugal Food recipe book - first published 32 years ago to help feed recession-hit Britain in the 1970s.
The 170 starters, mains and desserts also heavily feature stews and bean dishes.
"It is my hope that a new generation, faced with rising costs, will also find the book helpful," Smith said.
Embattled PM Gordon Brown may be too worried about the bigger picture to have noticed the books, but they are being embraced in the UK as an entire population starts to suffer from the steepest food price rises in almost a generation.
In the past 12 months alone, the price of a loaf of bread rose 47 per cent, butter 41 per cent, potatoes 57 per cent, eggs 37 per cent and fuel 30 per cent.
Such is the impact of the fuel rise, UK car sales figures are the worst since the introduction of the Mini in the 1960s. Such is the panic on the streets that two major supermarket chains have introduced clothing-style electronic security tags on their quality export meat trays, from places like Australia and New Zealand, after a noticeable increase in theft in recent months. There's no sign things will get better in the short term.
Costs for food staples are expected to increase again this month, with a washout of a British summer wiping out grain crops and prompting moves to significantly increase exports of foodstuffs like wheat from Australia.
Redundancies, too, have skyrocketed, particularly in the financial sector, which is expected to lose another 110,000 people in the next 12 months.
"Millions of public sector workers face a 2 per cent pay cap and will be forced to make tough choices between heating or eating this winter," said Dave prentice, head of Unison, one of Britain's large unions. Britain is set to suffer what its Treasurer Alistair Darling says is the worst turbulence in 60 years and analysts say Australia could no longer consider itself immune.
For Australians in Britain, there is equal panic, with the Australian dollar dropping to a low of $1.80 to the British pound, down from around $2.50 last year.
According to recruitment firm Link, this has seen Australians deserting London in droves - up to 34,000 a year - for more secure employment at home.
Meanwhile, Penguin has confirmed that Oliver's Ministry of Food book is due to go on sale on Australian shelves by the end of the year - it may know something the government fears, but won't predict.