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Lots of grumbling over bread price hike--but no rioting.

The price of bread jumped 30 percent all across the country overnight December 1. There have been no reported riots anywhere. But there is no shortage of grumbling.

Bread is the staple food in Iran. Unlike with rice or meat, shoppers can't just buy less or choose a substitute when prices rise.

The bread price threatens to have a greater impact on what the public thinks of President Rohani than anything that happens in the nuclear talks because bread prices are far closer to home.

Recently, the Tehran reporter for The Guardian of Britain stopped by some bakeries and watched what was happening.

A young girl walked in and asked the new price, which is 8,000 rials for each sangak (24 US cents), up from 6,000 rials. She shook her head in disappointment, but still asked for three loaves.

Another man stepped into the shop, and the bakers asked after his young child. "She's doing okay, better-but I'm not," he replied. "How are you supposed to feed a family 10 loaves of bread a day on a laborer's salary?" He has six children.

Shoppers abruptly, if politely, tore into each other's opinions about prices. One woman grumbled: "What they [the government] can't afford, they take out of our pockets." A few others nodded agreement.

A man in the middle of the queue with a professorial voice said: "Bread prices have not gone up for three years. The government had no choice." He further explained that the government was subsidizing bread, and so it wasn't a matter of taking money out of anyone's pocket. An awkward silence ensued.

Sensing the hostile looks, he said to no one in particular: "Aslan beh man che? [What is it to me?] Anytime you say something that's not entirely against the government, people denounce you as a spy."

He sounded like economist Saeed Laylaz, who wrote in the daily Etemad: "Those who say this price increase should not have been imposed should also explain where the extra subsidies could have come from."

The daily Donya-e Eqtesad has reported that the cost of a loaf of sangak (without subsidies) was 14,600 rials (44 US cents), or almost double what buyers pay for it. People "do not realize the value of the bread they are consuming," the newspaper said.

The grumbling isn't just about the price. It's also about the size of the loaves and the low quality of the flour.

"They've reduced the weight, though don't tell anyone I told you," laughs a young baker. The Guardian reports that the bakers' union had instructed bakers to reduce the weight of all breads sold by 10 percent.

As for the flour, a grandmother said, "This flour is just horrible, I hate to even use it. See those tiny yellow particles? There not supposed to be there, I don't know what they are doing to this flour, but they are adding things which aren't supposed to be in it."

Whole-wheat flour has been difficult to find in Iran for years. Sangak should be made with whole-wheat flour, although it is now baked with the same white flour as breads like taftoon and barbari.

A young baker told The Guardian reporter, "You won't find whole-wheat flour anywhere. They take out the bran and germ to feed livestock. The flour we get is like white chalk; I've no idea what they've been putting into it. Strange particles form when we make the dough, and it takes extra time to work the dough and try to produce a decent loaf. Then people blame us for the quality.
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Dec 19, 2014
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