The Lebanese love their food. Their elaborate spreads of grilled and sauteed meats, colorful salads and various vegetable dips, usually garnished with pine nuts, are a source of pride and the shared meals a symbol of generosity. Today, more than ever, food is on everyone’s mind — because there is so little to be had.

From the butchers and taxi drivers of Beirut to the aficionados of Tripoli’s famed sweets to the anti-government protesters in the streets, hunger is on everyone’s tongue. Lebanon’s escalating economic crisis and its collapsing currency are putting the price of many foodstuffs beyond the reach of the Lebanese. The price of meat, for example, has doubled since March, with ground beef now running at about $9 a pound.

Mustafa, a 73-year-old butcher in Beirut, said the same customer has been calling him every other day for weeks asking whether the prices have dropped: “He calls and says, ‘No, that’s expensive,’ and hangs up. But it’s only getting more expensive.” Mustafa who out of fear declined to give his full name, said he no longer bothers updating his price list.

Traders at work in the main fruit and vegetable market this week in Beirut.
Traders at work in the main fruit and vegetable market this week in Beirut. (Lorenzo Tugnoli for The Washington Post)

Rarely does a Lebanese meal lack tomatoes — minuscule cubes hiding among parsley and bulgur in tabbouleh salad, or stewed with onions and garlic, a base for countless other dishes — but tomato prices have also doubled. Shoppers who used to haul away kilogram after kilogram of tomatoes without a second thought are rationing, buying half a kilo or a few tomatoes at a time, said one grocer, shaking his head in disbelief.