The Household’s Basket: Households in a basket

Leonidas Vournelis
Baruch College, CUNY

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 2 part essay.

Like most EU countries during the past year Greece has been faced with significant inflationary pressures on the cost of goods, energy, and services. The austerity policies of the previous decade, which the country implemented in exchange for a series of bailouts, left large segments of the population impoverished. This past November (2022) the Greek ministry of Development announced a plan to help households with rising prices in food staples and home essentials, called The Household’s Basket (Το καλάθι του νοικοκυριού, Fig. 1). This essay examines how the Household’s Basket has become a popular metaphor for the inability of neoliberalism to serve as an organizational principle of society.

Figure 1. The Household’s Basket Logo

What is the Household’s Basket? The basket is an online site[1] where supermarket chains with annual profits over 90 million advertise a selection of items whose rate of price increase is lower than the average rate in the category the items belong to. Thirteen of the country’s largest supermarket chains participate in the basket voluntarily and they also decide what products go in and out of the basket each week. Once an item is posted on the digital basket it must stay there for a week and its price may not rise, although participating chains are allowed to lower prices any day of the week for any item. In total one may find around 50 mostly, but not exclusively, non-brand (generic) items in the basket, including rice, bread, thin pasta, all-purpose flour, milk, feta, eggs margarine, olive oil, chicken, sugar, baby formula, Greek coffee, instant coffee, tea, and some non-edible items such as detergents, soap, baby shampoo, and pet food[2]. Consumers may go online and select the products they are interested in, place them in a virtual basket, and with the help of a search engine locate the closest branch of the food chain in which each item is available. Consumers can also compare prices for each item among supermarket chains, but there is no option to buy online; in other words, purchases must be done in person. There is no way for the consumer to check for the price of an item over time, and prices and availability of products may change daily. Consumers may also bypass the online site and shop directly at a participating supermarket store; items that are in the digital basket for the week will have a sticker on them and can be placed directly in their shopping basket. Although this is faster and is the preferred method for most people it lacks the benefit of comparing prices among supermarket chains (Fig.2).

Figure 2. The Household’s Basket logo on a store shelve indicating products with reduced prices 

The household’s basket is not meant to stop inflation. When it was first introduced the secretary general of commerce attempted to explain its functions and its limitations to the public by comparing inflation to speeding car which “will not stop, nor will it reverse, but rather it will continue on the same course just with a slower speed [because of the basket]”[3].  Since then, more baskets have been introduced; these baskets refer to groups of food stuff traditionally consumed around major religious holidays such as turkey, vasilopita (a Greek version of Three Kings Cake) and tsoureki (sweet bread) for Xmas and New Year collectively called “The Holiday Basket” (12/22-01/23), and lamb, goat, tsoureki, and chocolate eggs for Easter festivities called “The Easter Basket” (03/23). These various baskets are meant to lower costs to consumers by incentivizing competition between chains without resorting to regulating prices or other heavy-handed government intervention which would be incompatible with EU law and the country’s commitment to neoliberal policies such as market deregulation as mandated by the agreements Greece signed with the IMF-EU in the previous decade in exchange for billions in bailout funds.

According to the government these baskets are a concrete example of its ability to combine austerity and market deregulation with social welfare policies as it leads the country through this inflationary crisis[4]; equally important, these baskets and other targeted policies are meant to allow those who are financially struggling to have what is seen as a basic Greek diet and experience holidays according to Greek customs and traditions. For instance, traditionally for Easter, godparents gift their godchildren long decorated candles called Lampades that are used to bring the light of resurrection home from Easter Sunday church services.  Lampades, toys, and other items related to traditional Easter celebrations are included in the basket under the name “The Godparents’ Basket”, so that everyone can presumably participate in major ethnic and religious holidays and fulfill their cultural obligations regardless of their financial status.

The Left-wing opposition parties (Syriza & Pasok) criticized the basket from the start, condemning the government’s unwillingness to engage in interventionist policies such as price controls while at the same time readily intervening in the economy with laws that mandate austerity in pensions and wages and privatization of state industries and services. They argued for lowering or abolishing temporarily the added value-added tax on food items, pointing to the example of Spain that abolished this tax on food in the beginning of 2023[5]. Since the country’s economic collapse and its bailouts from the IMF and the EU in the 2010s, the VAT has been one of the major sources of revenue needed both for government expenses and for the country’s obligations to reduce deficits and accumulate annual surpluses.  Every government that signed bailout agreements, left and the center right, successively raised the VAT on commodities reaching all the way to 24%. Although the current government is the first one to have lowered the VAT it has not done so for all foods, nor has it done so for all commodities and services. Today the Value Added Tax stands at 13% for food staples such as bread, milk, meat, fish, olive oil, feta cheese, pasta, flour, vegetables, water, pet food, coffee, and tea. Tickets to sport events, cinemas, theaters, transportation, restaurants, and bars are at 13%. The VAT is at 6% for medication, books, and heating bills, while almost all other purchases of goods and services continue to have a VAT of 24%.

The increase of the VAT during the previous decade when the country was the under strict financial supervision by the IMF-EU had become emblematic of the plan to balance the budget on the backs of those least responsible for the country’s financial woes. Still certain foods, like feta cheese, souvlaki, olive oil, and other similar food stuffs were exempt from the highest taxation not only because they were necessary for survival; their intimate association with Greek identity and involvement in mundane and sacred cultural practices makes them valued by most people in ways that often come into direct contradiction to the value system imposed on the country with the financialization of Greek life and the neoliberalization of the country’s economy[6]. Much like the customary practice of godparents gifting Lampades, these food items were considered fundamental ingredients of Greek life, that even under the strictest neoliberal austerity still had to be given a modicum of protection from deregulated and profit-oriented markets. The lower VAT constitutes an admission on behalf of successive governments of the inability of the neoliberalism to serve as the main organizational principle of the Greek society, an idea summarized by popular critique in Greece that neoliberalism is “anti-social” (Αντικοινωνικός), as well as by the practice of naming food pantries and soup kitchens for those struggling with hunger as Social Pantries and Social Kitchens.

Part II of this essay takes a closer look at popular reactions to the household basket and examines how food as a theme has become central in making sense of the new economic realities of Greece and a battle ground for competing systems of value.

[1] (, lit. translation E-consumer)

[2] (

[3] (

[4] Recently France adopted the policy of the Basket and consumer advocate groups in Belgium, pointing to Greece, have called on their government to do the same.

[5] Until the time of the writing of this essay, data from the EU Statistics Agency indicate that since abolishing the VAT food inflation in Spain has grown at a higher pace than it has in Greece. 


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