How the great British meal deal represents the cost-of-living crisis

The great leveller of lunches isn’t as affordable as it used to be. What does that tell us about where our country’s headed?

The cost of energy bills is rising, teachers are striking, the rental market is shrinking, no one’s wages are increasing and, now, a Tesco meal deal costs £3.90 without a Clubcard (it cost £3 only a year ago).

Our country is in a financial crisis. And arguably, nothing represents that better than watching the price of British cultural cornerstone rise to almost four quid – especially for food that isn’t particularly high in quality or exciting. Meal deals should be cheap and convenient; they’re the bread and butter, no pun intended, of our nation, after all. We Brits love a sarnie so much that we spend £5.6 billion a year on them, for crying out loud. Our food economy would collapse without the humble slice of bread.

Even for the irregular meal dealer, it’s pretty likely you’ve grabbed one at some point. Whether your bank account is looking bleak before payday, you’re hanging out of your arse or you’re looking to satisfy a craving for coronation chicken on a budget, the meal deal has always been a solid lunch option – for the many, not the few.

There’s something ritualistic about the purchasing process, too. Swindling the priciest combo possible and watching the total go down at the self-service checkout is proper thrilling. According to vital research carried out by the Guardian last year (not for the first time), the most expensive possible meal deal combination was individually worth £8.20:​a chicken sandwich triple pack (£3.35), a Naked Green Machine drink (£2.60) and a Trek Power choc orange protein bar (£2.25). How’s that for sticking it to the man?

Ok, so they’re a bit dry, and the bread’s a bit stale. But you know what, we wouldn’t want to have the meal deal any other way. It’s ours”

The meal deal should be the great leveller of lunches, a democratic option accessible to most. Meal Deal Talk, a Facebook group dedicated to sharing lunchable trials and tribulations, has more than 44,000 members. Not to mention the meal deal is a great denominator for someone’s personality – just ask someone for their combo on a first date for some real insight. Ham-no-mayo, Walkers Ready Salted and a bottle of water? You’re probably a bore. All-day breakfast, McCoys and a Coke? Maybe he thinks of himself as a bit of an alpha. Red Bull, dodgy sushi and a protein bar? Banker wanker.

Ok, so they’re a bit dry, and the bread’s a bit stale. But you know what, we wouldn’t want to have the meal deal any other way. It’s ours. The Norwegians and Americans don’t get it, but that’s their problem (and god knows the Yanks have enough of their own). The rising cost of meal deals feels like a sad indictment of our bleak times. Even when inflation drops (if it ever does), prices tend to stay the same. The meal deal, which once felt like a marker of economic stability, an affordable, reliable mate, if you will, has risen in price fairly dramatically for the first time in 10 years, and probably will again in the next few. And so the meal deal joins the humble Cadbury’s Freddo among the ranks of, well, things that used to be cheap. Enjoy your Super Noodles while you can.

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