If you have not read the TT report yet, here is their blog and link to the report.
Recent evidence from Canada states that food insecure adults are more vulnerable to chronic health conditions – conditions that require a good diet and care to stave off illness.
Without doubt the same applies here – hence the need to feed hungry people well, hence the need to change the current food aid system to feed people good food.
The long-awaited TT nutritional report was published last week. An opportunity for the TT to show themselves as an organisation that care about what people eat when they are hungry. Instead, it was a study/report set up to do nothing more than convince others that the current food aid parcel is nutritious and therefore ok to push onto hungry people. It was an exercise in trying to protect their poor-food model as opposed to using their now considerable resources to plot a sustainable course to feeding people well.
The headline claim is the food aid parcel is ‘nutritiously-adequate’ – REALLY! … let’s take a look at this claim and in particular the method deployed by the Academics who according to their biogs are ‘food experts’.
Upfront and clear throughout the report and the adjoining blog on the TT website written to promote it was to try to protect their existing food parcel and steer away from improving the quality of the food for hungry people. This was well supported by a particularly narrow and therefore weak methodology set up by the academics. A methodology which was about subjectivity throughout, suiting the TT purpose rather than setting out a clear case and objective look at how people need to be fed. A quick glance at the references in the report tells every reader the study was narrow and set up to prove the point that the food aid package is nutritional – which it categorically is not – more of this later.
The title of this blog is a ‘Missed Opportunity’ and here is why. The TT have the resources to change the food offer if they wish and there is the knowledge in the food aid system to deliver that change. But instead, their aim was to try and substantiate their previous claims that the parcel is nutritious. So, 10 years into using a poor-food-for-poor-people model, they set out to steadfastly defend rather than amend and when something is wrong and that is the starting point, poor work follows. It could have been so different.
The report claims a number of things and makes recommendations all shaped around protecting the parcel below – this is the parcel the report talks about…
The authors (academics) claim this to be nutritional and also claim that the parcel above is able to feed a person adequately for up to 5/6 days. We challenge anyone to find 3 days-worth of meals in the above package so let your imagination run wild and find 5/6 days = not possible, not credible.
Put 3 meals a day together from the named products and see how you do? Also calculate for yourselves how much sugar/additives the parcel pushes into a person’s system – for a bit of assistance here a few of the ingredient lists for you to consider:
The Savoury Rice:
Chopped Ham with Pork:
Healthy eh, nutritious eh?
And each item loaded with sugar and that’s without any focus on the sugar in desserts – yet taking out bags of sugar will clearly make everything better – more of this later.
Time to unpick the analysis:
It’s important to note that the authors do not declare what foods they analysed – it appears to be just a random selection drawn from a lot of other random selections? This is the first food report we have read were the food discussed is omitted from the evidence trail – in fact the evidence trail of this report is incredibly thin indeed. Anyway, with no food list to refer to, here is what stands out:
In an aim to provide a ‘robust’ case… the authors chose to ignore the family, concentrating only on single people. With such a gap in the method how can a claim of ‘nutritionally-adequate be applied?
The report claims… the parcel is nutritionally balanced if the hungry person eats everything in the parcel? We know that never happens, because and about 45% of the parcel remains uneaten as it cannot be eaten as meals. A glaring omission by the authors – strip out 45% and let’s see the analysis then?
The report does not… take account of dietary needs, vegetarianism etc – and the impact the parcel has on people requiring a specific diet – no analysis here at all?
The report overlooks… where this so-called nutrition comes from = ultra-processed foods. Foods that are known to damage a person’s health – food that should never play any part in feeding a hungry person. Of course, the claim of the authors and TT is it’s a package only for emergencies – this is nonsense and it only serves to reinforce poor food habits that no public health advice would sign up to.
The report overlooks…the need for fibre in a person’s diet and there is no mention of fibre anywhere in the report – an omission or deemed not relevant by the authors? Either would indicate a mistake that strips away another level of the nutritionally-adequate claim.
The report does not reflect… on the needs of children and how children are forced via the food bank parcel to eat ultra-processed adult foodstuffs.
The report claims the food items being eaten in a balanced way… without the density of eating whilst hungry for example, eating… tinned pies, followed by hot dogs, followed by another tinned meat dish – because that what people do/select when they are hungry – stuff themselves with savoury high fat salt and sugar stuff. And yes, this is what happens when people are hungry and any claim otherwise is spurious.
The report, and let’s use the authors own words here…says, ‘Whilst the sum of the food items in the parcels were nutritionally adequate (with the exception of sugar, salt and Vitamin D)… Here we have analysis that states a food bank parcel is high in salt, very high in sugar and lacks vitamin D = too much salt and sugar, both on the ‘killer-food’ watchlist by the way and needing vitamin D; you know the very vitamin that stops rickets, protects teeth etc – and with all this is going on and the parcel is still ‘nutritionally-adequate’ – don’t think so.
The report reinforces the poorest eating habits = saying its ok for the poorest people to receive the poorest food because they are poor. When what is required is food education and always options to feed hungry people the best food possible. And saving the best for last…
The report says it’s ok for poor people to eat in an abnormal way. A way nobody was brought up to eat in. That is to eat products over meals. Go back to the picture and what the TT and authors are saying is ‘we know the food parcel doesn’t consist of meal options – but hey, your poor so eat poor products instead. What is outrageous about this outcome is the report has been compiled by ‘food experts’ and signed off by the TT Management Team – clearly both parties think forcing people to eat products over meals is the right thing to do. And using this as a very clear and appropriate benchmark, this point alone completely removes the report as a credible piece of research.
So how has all this been dressed up to read as if there is something credible to be found?
The TT have done their usual pretending that this is another nutritional report in a series they have produced. Anyone who takes an interest in this subject knows this is the first report, pushed out because of the noise that agencies like us are making. It’s all about trying to protect their service offer and nothing in the report or the subsequent TT actions shouts ‘we are wanting to feed people well’. The food aid package remains as it is with one major change – the removal of a bag of sugar. Yes, the headline change is the removal of the bag of sugar and hungry people will now of course be much better off. You couldn’t make this up. All the resource they have put into the report and build up the TT have given it and A BAG OF SUGAR becomes the major change item.
The route the TT could have took was one that chose to understand and action the change needed to rectify the problem of products over meals. In this context and back to the missed opportunity stuff…the report does rightly reflect on the products not meals, however absolutely nothing is actioned – here is the excerpt:
If the intention was to feed people well, this is the most important piece of the report but it was never the intention and so it did become a recommendation by the authors = No. And do the TT intend to do anything about it = No. Never mind, everything is now fine, because those poor hungry people can’t get their hands on a bag of sugar. As already noted – you couldn’t make this up.
A comment or two of the authors/their research:
Of course, we do not know what their brief was, but it is fair to expect researchers to present a robust case when expecting people to legitimately accept the finding of a report that is supposed to be about feeding people better when they are in crisis.
What is damming about the academics approach is they chose, after 10 years of poor-food-supply by the TT, to ignore the human case and simply use software to apply their bias, and it is a bias, given the human factor was ignored. Put simply, there is no reflection on how people eat or do not eat the food aid package and that is a glaring miss for people who introduce themselves as having a food expertise. They have assumed that the whole food package is eaten when that does not happen – they have analysed products over meals – when in fact they accept people eat meals over products (see above). And although they noted this as a concern, it does not appear as a headline recommendation…clearly demonstrating that it was research to protect service over people, so crisis over care. It’s a miss and such a glaring miss that it negates the whole study.
Throughout the report a number of other things stand out.
1 – The authors repetition of well-rehearsed TT lines.
2 – Poor referencing
About those well-rehearsed lines/caveats to help protect the route to change if the route is not taken. They said of the changes – “it is recommended these are not made until an analysis is conducted to determine if any changes:
do not significantly increase the cost of donations;
do not negatively impact the volume of public donations;
do not negatively affect stock availability;
Fit with clients’ constraints on food preparation (e.g. lack of utensils, refrigeration or cooking facilities);
Written as if it was the TT themselves putting up their already well-worn defence; a defence that rolls out if any perceived criticism is made. It indicates that the authors know very little about how the food aid system works or how people engage with the system as donors or use the system when hungry. We found this quite surprising given one of the authors has been working at a food bank as part of their PHD?
About the references: Take a look, it’s a reference list to suit the end result not to apply objectivity or steer towards any sort of alternative outcome – after all, the TT are the client.
To finish – here we go again… the TT seemingly happy with the report results – a report that satisfies them with the term ‘nutritionally-adequate’. No doubt the TT will push it out to their food banks as if it adds some sort of credibility to their food work. – it doesn’t. Agreeing to the reports findings also indicates that there is no food expertise within the Trussell Trust – their skills are in franchise management, logistics and PR – yet they want to be trusted with people’s diet and wellbeing?
The food parcel is not nutritious and look into the report itself and its says so. Anything that is high in salt, very high in sugar, lacks Vitamin D and requires people to eat products over meals, is not nutritious and you don’t need to be a food expert to identify with that.
Oh, and don’t forget, the glaring error made by the authors who assumed the whole parcel gets eaten – it doesn’t, far from it.
In time, we are sure this report will be seen for what it is, a blatant attempt by the TT to justify an already discredited position of feeding people incredibly poor food. This was a chance to rectify a serious problem in the food aid system and treat people with the dignity they deserve. The TT have the resources to stop the problem but they chose not to and those close to the problem know why.
Now the report is published, we are left with a food bank service that is little more than a game of food-Russian-roulette for hungry people = containing pot luck products and some dangerous foodstuffs that most people would never choose for themselves. It is known that 8-10 hungry people do not use food banks because of the embarrassment and the poor quality of the food on offer – that means only 20% of hungry people approach food banks. Surely with the resources it now has, the TT would want to help create a good food aid system that encouraged the other 80% to use its services – evidently not.
The report and TT ‘sugar action’ will do nothing improve this situation. Consequently, most hungry people will struggle and stay hungry outside of the food aid system and those who do enter into the food bank offer will continue to get fed badly.
Last week, we were heartened to hear that a few key decision makers are now starting to listen to the very strong argument we have put forward that proves TT provide a poor-food offer to hungry people. We intend to use the report as further evidence that the TT have no intention of changing.
Our campaign work continues and will do so until the TT feed people well.
 We commissioned a dietitian to report of the nutritional content of the TT Family package. Its supports the assessment that the package is high in salt and sugar but also notes the package becomes deficient in calories when applied to family eating.
If you read this and think we are criticising you because, for example, you work hard at a food bank, you are wrong. For us, it’s all about the food and making sure people get fed well. Importantly if you work for a food bank and/or want to help hungry people we would hope its about the food for you too.
We have worked/researched for over 5 years to overcome the poor-food-for-poor-people approach of food aid in the UK. Every week, we get emails and various other contacts claiming that food aid has to use processed tinned food because…with a whole host of reasons listed.
So, let’s unpick those reasons. And to start, let’s get every reader focused:
EVERY HUNGRY PERSON DESERVES THE BEST FOOD POSSIBLE AND PROVIDING GOOD-FOOD-AID IS POSSIBLE = FACT.
Here are the headlines of some of the work we have undertaken.
We know over 50% of food banks parcels go uneaten or unused because they are random items that don’t work as meals. As a quick test – take a food parcel home and cook it for yourself and let us know your results?
We know over 60% of surplus food provided by organisations like Fareshare is never used because it is again random, end of date or processed. This means it’s being thrown away by centres and others who are paying for the service.
We know most food donated to food banks is done randomly and so, random food in means random food out. If most people can’t cook (which is the claim by a lot of food banks) what is the point of random food when all it presents is a difficult ‘ready steady cook’ exercise?
Imagine the difference that could be made if the food was not random…moving on:
We know that when people are hungry they make bad decisions and likely to stay in their crisis. If they eat well, they make better decisions and are more likely to move on. If you disagree with this, please take the time to fast and then feed yourself for a week or longer on a random food aid parcel and see how you get on with your decision making. This is important because people are being expected to stop their crisis eating only very poor-processed-food – it just doesn’t add up.
We know that there are food banks all over the country stuck with stock of food they cannot use because it has been randomly donated and foodbanks that are always in need of other foods and goods that are donated less or not at all. Wouldn’t it be much better if only the food needed was donated – it can be done.
The above sets the context, now let’s start taking about those structural issues – and as we do, imagine creating a good-food-aid system – the best in the world if you like – why wouldn’t anyone want to be part of that and all the time making sure hungry people stay healthy?
Here are 10 issues to get us started:
We can’t provide fresh food and only supply
We don’t have refrigeration.
Ask the Trussell Trust to purchase one for you (£20m from ASDA) or if you are an independent food bank, fundraise £120 (or less) to purchase one. Start by wanting to offer good food and the rest will follow.
We rely on volunteers and they don’t have the skills to handle fresh food.
Volunteers can be easily/cheaply trained in food hygiene (back to the £20m ASDA fund again or local funds). Surely every volunteer who could would want to train and learn new skills and every food bank offer to training as part of their development?
We don’t have the space to store fresh food.
It’s all about priorities here. There is space for processed food but not for fresh food – why? It’s a simple change.
Fresh food is too expensive for people to donate.
If this were true then the whole food aid system does not add up because people are donating more expensive items now? People will donate whatever food they think people need – educate the donor.
You can’t tell people what to donate it will put them off donating.
Linked to 4. People are already told what food banks need and they donate and also food banks run appeals for particular items – so if it works, it works – educate the donor.
People don’t know how to cook fresh food and prefer processed food to fresh.
Regarding cooking: This is mostly right but imagine if the food aid parcel was not random and contained items that could be cooked simply with very easy to follow recipes – we have done this work and it’s a simple change. Regarding fresh food: We’ve never met anyone who has turned down fresh good meals and take random processed tins instead (but still the claim is made)
People don’t have an electricity or gas supply.
The claim often is that most people don’t have utilities so can’t cook -so we give them poor food to eat cold. Let’s unpick this, it’s not true that most don’t have utilities, some don’t, most do. So is the food aid service really designed to cater for the few? Also, 10 years on cold processed food is the best that can be offered? Well we know it isn’t and we have developed fresh food options that only require a kettle or a microwave and almost everyone regardless of their struggle can get access to either. Design/deliver the service for the many and the few and people lives will change for the better.
Supermarkets can’t store donated fresh food for food banks to collect.
Supermarkets can do whatever they want. They have the resources and if it makes sense to them, they will do it. If they can put a trolley at the front of the store why not a tall fridge. It’s all about the service they are asked to provide.
We need chiller vans to collect fresh food from supermarkets.
Again, most big supermarket chains have home delivery chiller vans – why can’t a fresh food bank run be added. Remember the current delivery/collection system has been planned so why would there be a problem adapting?
Fresh food is heavier than processed food and people can’t carry it.
The best for last – Yes this was a reason given to us by a senior Trussell Trust representative and yes they did say vegetables were heavier than tins so fresh food was not an option.
Educate the donor – whoever they are:
Most of the changes we advocate rely on a food aid system that treats every donor as an adult and is the result of negotiation that has every hungry person in mind. And most of the problems are caused by the random the food supply that Fareshare and Trussell Trust say is the only one possible to maintain their services. This is not the case.
Imagine if every shopper and every supermarket was educated on the food that was necessary to feed people well without waste. We are sure they would welcome the information and adjust accordingly (supermarkets might not because they have other motives, but it should always be part of the negotiation with them).
With the information, over time people will donate accordingly and if they don’t want to join a good-food-supply-chain (supermarkets etc) they should not be allowed into the food aid system. Any compromise here then it’s a service about the service provider and not the hungry person.
We have a full plan on how to:
Educate the donor
How to provide good fresh food at scale and safety
How to create a food aid parcel that everyone can cook or use
How each parcel can contain fresh meals
We have tried to share this information with the Trussell Trust and they have no interest, claiming good food is not part of their food poverty approach. Therefore, the poor-food-for-poor-people continues and frankly any defence of that model 10 years after it was introduced has no credibility. If you care about people’s welfare first – why would you not want to provide a good-food-aid- service because as we have briefly set out above, the good-food alternative is available.
Yes to the first and it’s about the dignity and care of every hungry person you meet
Yes to second and its about service delivery first – this is the current food aid food offer.
We sit firmly in the feed people well camp, hence our work.
When reading this there is not one public health dietitian or nutritionist or any food expert that would say the TT food aid parcel contains good food. So when the option to change is available – why would TT steadfastly defend it and why wouldn’t they want to change? Read on…
Last week, I spoke at a European conference on how to prevent obesity. During my time there, I met a variety of experts – two made a real impression. One from Greece, the other from Sweden.
The first, a woman from Greece, who has for 5 years worked in extreme conditions of poverty (their austerity is much worse than ours) talked only of the importance of feeding hungry families well and the positive impact that has. Part of her presentation stuck with me when she said ”Hungry people need and deserve the best food” – she couldn’t believe the food aid system we had here. The second, a woman from Sweden talked of how food poverty was not a problem in Sweden but was completely shocked when told of the food bank offer here. She said it would never have been allowed to happen in Sweden – meaning they would make sure the service was about good food first – about the recipient, not the service provider. As we know, the service here is to protect the service provider.
Recently via our @foodpoverty account there has been some interesting activity. Some from caring people who do not have the facts, so their interventions were emotive – this is to be expected and welcomed. Then there was a strong thread of activity, pushed by the TT in an attempt to deflect criticism from their poor-food model, a model that contains no less than 10 foods that are know to kill people in the long term (does this seem strong, well it should do because It’s that serious).
Therefore, following the TT interventions and some of the impassioned comments that followed, indicating that we were in fact being negative with the ‘why don’t we all work together’ cry – I thought I would set the record straight on a few important matters.
For reference, and this distinction matters:
We are food organisation with over 10 years experience of feeding people well.
TT are (regarding food banks) a franchise company with no food experience.
As a charity activity responding to a particular need, the TT have done a great job in creating a network that is able to respond at a particular level. Without their food bank network, the crisis people have been exposed to would have been considerably worse. However, the network and particularly its food offer, requires a specific upgrade to protect people’s health and help people move on. We have concerned ourselves with that upgrade and have done all we can to try to get the TT to respond.
Our contact with the TT has been over 4 years and has always initiated by us. During this time, we have:
Met with the Senior TT Management team: During the meeting they told us they did not think good food was part of the solution (backed up in an email) Told us they knew the food was poor food but as it was not for ‘us’ so it was good enough to give out. To follow up the meeting we were supposed to share information, we shared ours, TT did not share theirs (more of this later). By the way, this meeting was supposed to be about how to improve the food in the food aid system. This was 4 years ago and the TT showed no interest whatsoever.
Invited them to speak at one of our conferences: This year, the TT took us up on the offer and used the conference slot to present their ASDA support. Afterwards the TT representatives said they would call to arrange a meeting about the food offer. Guess what, no contact. A month later, we called to take the initiative and we were assured that they would get back to us within 2 weeks. Guess what, no contact. We called again, only this time to be told they had been too busy to call…really, too busy, there is such an arrogance in this. Here is a maxim to consider – if you forget once, it could be mistake, if you forget multiple times that’s a habit and indicates other motives.
What the above shows is that we have tried to work with the TT to work to improve the food aid system – by the way we have a good-food-first-solution and the TT know this – they just don’t want to get involved – we do wonder why? Maybe the following paragraph will shed some light:
A few things we know, that indicate that the TT has a particular agenda:
The TT are on record stating they want to become the McDonalds of food poverty
TT have just taken (with Fareshare) £20m from Asda to open more food banks or improve the existing.
Last week, the CEO and Head of Policy of TT, implied that our work to feed people well supports Tory policy. Just take a minute to consider the above – the TT want to be the McDonalds of food poverty, they push out only poor-food as their food aid offer and then take in £20m to expand food banks and then accuse us of supporting tory policy – the hypocrisy here is massive and why try to deflect attention from their own growth plan of more food banks and, without doubt, the institutionalisation of food poverty? Maybe more should be asking questions in their direction because not to do so accepts their model and accepts hungry people should be fed poor food.
We have tried to work with the TT to change the food aid system for the better – they don’t want to – so any criticism is to be placed with the TT. Also, as noted earlier, we have a food expertise and we speak of food first because of our expertise. The TT do not have any food expertise, they are a franchise operator and have calculated that the only way to grow their franchise is to make sure poor-processed-food is their food of choice.
Counter to last week’s claims by the TT (they said the food bank model belonged to the food banks) the poor-food-aid model is theirs, they introduced it, they have maintained it and they continue to protect it – it’s theirs, hence we campaign and will continue to campaign against the TT poor-food-model.
To round up this little insight into our TT relationship – one thing stands out about the way they do their business. When criticised they default to emotive twitter content as a first line of defence, hiding behind tweets of food bank users or volunteers of theirs who again are emotive. Food poverty should at some level be emotive, but the approach to feeding people should always be based on expertise and facts. With no food expertise the TT are feeding over 1m people a year – this should be under some considerable scrutiny and we will focus our campaigning attentions on this next.
Also, the TT take in the majority of their funds because they work in food poverty, yet they claim food is not their priority – of course it’s not, of course it is – it just depends who the audience is. Would anyone really be listening to them and would ASDA have given them £20m, if they were talking debt advice and jobs, of course not. For context, read this article the TT CEO talks only of food and food banks and is pictured in front of food. They are all about food and use the emotive content of food to grow their interests – it’s a pity its only ever food that is poor, is obesogenic and harms people’s lives.
To finish, we have found their approach to working with others (unless big money is involved) or they think there is a route to money, is duplicitous and at a time when hungry people have been receiving their poor food for over 10 years you would think they would have the dignity to think of those they claim to represent and feed them well.
Like I have said, it can be done and we have tried to work with them to do it.
In the next few weeks (although it keeps being delayed) the TT will release a report that we believe will look to improve the food they offer or address what they have up differently.
It may include a section of the nutritional content of the food aid package, we hope it does.
If so, we wait with interest to see which ‘expert’ has lent their name to the work, because it’s impossible to say the food aid package is anything but poor – good luck with that one.
It may also indicate that the TT will provide Fridges to food banks to help store fresh food. They may even offer a route to improving the food – we will know soon enough. If they do, both fridges and better food have formed a part of our campaigning and I know we have touched a nerve within the TT walls and they have reluctantly had to shift their offer – would the TT got there in their own – their track record indicates otherwise – so we will see if our campaigning has worked this time around.
We will continue to campaign against TT and any other organisations that supports feeding hungry people the poorest of food. This work will continue until good food becomes the mainstay of the food aid offer. Food banks are here to stay and the TT/Fareshare/ASDA partnership will make sure of that. What we will do is to try and feed people the best food possible and anyone who thinks this is wrong, when there is a food system able to make it happen – think about your motives and remember this quote:
‘Charity is about the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver.’
Robert Egger: Founder of DC/LA Kitchens
If you see charity as the redemption of the giver then get out of the food aid system.
If you see others acting in that way, help them to change or ask them to leave too. Our campaigning is all about the liberation of the receiver.
Join in, comment or join us.
Blog written by:
Director – Can Cook
About Can Cook:
Can Cook id dedicated to feeding people well regardless of income. We have taught 15,000 people to cook and by the close of 2018, we will have given out 70,000 free fresh meals to families in deprived areas.
We manufacture our own range of foods.
We cater in schools, care homes and nurseries.
We campaign to change the current food aid system to make sure hungry people get fed good food.
We sit within the third sector. We do so because for 11 years we have worked tirelessly to offer good food solutions in deprived areas. In 11 years we have taught over 14,000 people to cook, delivered fresh food services into schools, nurseries and care homes and, importantly in the context of this blog, we have given away 35,000 free, fresh meals to people going hungry in 2017. This is all frontline stuff. Working with children, parents, grandparents, in short; everyone in and working around food poverty.
It is the work that has given us vast experience into people’s eating habits and choices. It is the work that drives our good food model, it is also the work that drives our campaigning. We have campaigned for years to stop the poor food model that is currently the only offer available to most in food poverty. In the first couple of years, we campaigned quietly – getting people around tables, agreeing, disagreeing, producing position papers, arranging conferences all in the hope that we would agree that good food was a better option for hungry people. At the time everyone who attended the conferences (165 organisations) agreed (including the Trussell/ Fareshare reps), but when it came to doing something about it, they all backed off. 3 years on and our campaigning has become that much more targeted, naming organisations who frankly have only their own agenda, trying to get an alternative dialogue going against to the poor food dialogue that dominates the food poverty agenda right across England and Wales. We see campaigning as the cornerstone of all that we do. As campaigners it is so important to tell the truth as we see it, as we have researched it, as we have worked it. Truth that is based on fact and drawn from feeding thousands of people who are both hungry and in need of support. Our campaigns therefore are about representation; representing those who are stuck in austerity with too few options to take them anywhere else. Last week this role to represent took on real focus; a focus that initially generated anger, a focus that gave us further impetus to push harder against those who are hell-bent on making sure that we will always have a food aid system that they can push their poor food into – food that is cast off by a system that has no commercial use for it, food that is so random and processed that skilled chefs could not dig out a series of good meals from it. Ours is not to chirp from the side-lines, criticising. Our campaigning is about facts and the negative impact of poor food on poorer people. Our campaigning is about already having a sustainable solution to food poverty; a solution that positively brings institutions together and only supplies good food to the people who need it.
Anyway, scene set, now onto what made us angry and onto what should make everyone angry if your aim is social justice for those who are blighted by the stress of hunger.
Food poverty is a very emotive subject full of faith, hope, charity and the acts of volunteers who work so hard to make a difference. Because of this you should never criticise the efforts of those involved…after all, lives are being saved and people have found purpose in their volunteering activities – activities that have been the savour of many a church/community group or even big charity. We note this upfront as not to denigrate the efforts of volunteers who are working hard (we know of lots who do) but to lay bare the complexity now in-built into the whole food poverty movement. Careers depend on it, community groups are thriving because of it and all manner of others are spending their time trying to get in on the act. It is activity that is bound together by the regular and sweeping statements from all the actors and all the players involved; statements such as ‘we should not have to be here, we are here to stop food poverty, put ourselves out of business, that’s the plan.’ It’s a decent plan to have under the circumstances. However, the evidence of the last 8 years or so points in a different direction? We have seen poor waste food being recycled as if it was good, rolling out on a larger scale, feeding people badly as it goes along. Then last week, maybe the final nail in the coffin of the ‘we should not have to be here plan’, came the announcement that Trussell Trust and Fareshare have struck a £20m deal to expand their poor food models to anywhere that will take them.
Three years ago, we raised the topic of food poverty becoming institutionalised in the UK with the Trussell Trust becoming the key actor in an ‘institutionalised-plan’. At the time, our thinking was swayed after hearing the former CEO of Trussell declare that he wanted to see the organisation become the ‘McDonalds-of-food-poverty’. Around the same time, the CEO of Fareshare was saying something quite different in front of public audiences. His position was ‘Fareshare was not a food poverty organisation but a food waste organisation’. At first glance there is something of a conflict going on within the two statements with no immediate match up. But then take a step back and dig a little deeper – what you’ll find is a meeting of organisational minds. One wanted growth and needed more supply. The other also wanted growth and needed somewhere to deposit all of its food waste – a good marriage all of a sudden – more of this later.
Canada and the USA have been playing this food waste for poor people game for decades with mountains of proof that it does not work and lets the state off in its responsibility to care for people. It is a deeply flawed model. A model Fareshare and Trussell have followed with real purpose, culminating last week in announcing their news to partner with Walmart to maximise their growth plans. Walmart – the very company known to exploit their employees, many of whom are paid so poorly that they too rely on food handouts. The company that has done more than most to institutionalise food poverty in the USA. It’s immoral, but hey – clearly to some this is just business as usual, so why does this really matter?
It matters because the model is proven to keep people in poverty and it matters because it is proven that such models become little more than an industrial supply chain that pushes its waste and costs onto others, pretending to do otherwise. And it matters because all this is ably abetted by charity.
The intellectual Cornel West once said “Justice is what love looks like in public.” To achieve love in a food context surely it is about health and choice. Yet the exact opposite is on offer by the Trussell and Fareshare. So how can anyone be okay with randomised, mostly unhealthy, food as the only offer to people who are already having their self worth stripped by an evil benefits system or crap pay for a hard days work? Of course, there is an argument that at least some of the food they supply is fine for use and whilst there is lots of waste that is equally fine because at least the some food will feed some people. Well, sorry the argument doesn’t stack up. To back up this point lets inform you, as the reader, of what we found after paying for the Fareshare service for 6 months.
We have a full audit of all foods delivered to us. Of the foodstuff delivered, the parcel
ranged from kinder eggs and chocolate/biscuit items of all kinds (that we refused but they still turned up), loads of bread items onto useful items such as prawns and gammon joints that we could use because we are food producer. But here are the stark figures, for every delivery we received over the period we worked with Fareshare, the average value of the items delivered was £102.21 but the average waste cost (food we could not use and we needed to dispose of) was £62.40. Remember that we have a team of trained chefs on staff, with a combined kitchen experience of over 100 years between them. Yet we still had to dispose of 60% of all goods delivered. We can only estimate from our experience how much food the average Fareshare recipient must waste each and every time they receive their random delivery as most don’t have chefs. Fareshare brands itself as a charity having the objectives of ‘fighting hunger and food waste’, but figures say they are mostly passing that waste on to community centres or to be wasted by households going hungry, therefore accomplishing neither of its aforementioned objectives – so what have Walmart bought into and why?
As already noted, it’s a North American model and across the Atlantic there is real expertise in these poor-food-corporate-buy-in-approaches.
One expert who set up the STOP in Canada (look it up if you don’t know it) said last week…
“Let’s not conflate a food waste strategy with a poverty reduction strategy. It’s destructive to do so. Are we saying the poor among us are only worthy of the castoffs of the industrial food system – the majority of which is unhealthy food, laden with fat, sugar and salt which increases the risk of diet related diseases? There is no question we can and must do better than this as a society.”
Wise words. Words worthy of major consideration, unless you are wanting to get as close as you can to the food industrial complex, unless your intentions are about growth over poverty; unless you are Trussell or Fareshare.
10 days ago, we wrote a blog about changing the story of food poverty, ending that blog with its not too late to change – if the intention was to create a good food system for people who are hungry. Last week changed everything. Last week’s Walmart love-in said to everyone who cares about these matters – food poverty in the UK will become as it is in North America. A service done at pace and all on the back of volunteers, except for those jobs in the management tiers of Fareshare/Trussell, who of course are needed to co-ordinate the logistics of this deeply flawed and deeply immoral model.
A good company is measured not by how it behaves in public when things are going good but how it behaves when things are not so good, and they are in the glare of scrutiny. So here is our experience of both organisations about things that have not gone well.
After carrying our own practice-based research (partly noted above) into their operational models, we approached them both, sometimes meeting with management teams raising our concerns about their poor food models, providing strong evidence. In response, both steadfastly defended their poor food model (offering the most bizarre reasons for their offer of poor food), both reacted with disdain, and this is important, simply ignored all feedback. Now what is interesting here is that we have a food expertise that both Fareshare and Trussell don’t have, we are a food organisation first, with a significant track record in feeding people well in deprived areas. They cared not one bit. For them it was all about logistics and the movement of as much poor food as they could muster. This paragraph is worth noting because it lets you into the psyche of the charities in play here. For them, it’s always been about growth over product and there is no evidence to declare anything to the contrary.
There is ongoing campaign End Hunger that has gathered all of the national players around one table looking to create a model that, as the title suggests, ends hunger. Around that table Trussel and Fareshare sit as the proud supply chain of most of the infrastructure of poor food that gives the campaign the oxygen to exist. It is a campaign that has made some decent recommendations about policy change and has routes to government that can influence. There is no doubt that some around the table care. Now though, the dynamics of that table have changed and there is a big new corporate elephant in the room. An elephant so big that it could distort the whole picture quickly and forever. Moreover, if we look across again to North America, this elephant will do all it can to foist its poor-food options so deep that in just a few years’ time it will be impossible to extract it even if there was a want to do so. Let’s be clear here, if anyone thinks Walmart are going to invest £20million without influence they should not be anywhere near any sort of decision making.
So rounding all this up, and back to the marriage of Trussell and Fareshare, and not forgetting the role of the wider third sector:-
We believe there was unrest in the staff camps of Trussell and Farshare about the Walmart deal, but it still went ahead. In doing the deal, Trussel and Fareshare have declared their hand. Walmart are their partners and they are wedded to growth and poor-food just as their contemporaries working with Walmart are doing are across the Atlantic. Now they may have sold this to their UK food poverty partners (End Hunger and others) as this is a good deal for all involved. After all, more food banks, more poor food, more volunteers, what’s there not to like? We can imagine them saying…’Yes there is going to be a bit of noise about Walmart, but that will die down and then let’s think about all those poor people we can help and those new initiatives we can all create off the back of the big new supply chain of poor food.’ If this, or something like this, has/is being said and this sort of thing is allowed, bought into if you like, then everyone in the supply chain of this Walmart deal will be complicit and no amount of reworking or dressing this up will suffice. Get into bed with Walmart and you will be part of institutionalising food poverty in the UK – no doubt, no further discussion. Take a quick look at twitter to read how the complicity has started with some already starting to distort the argument by claiming food aid has always been institutionalised and what happened last week is merely part of what is already in place. It is an outrageous claim, unless of course you believe in the deal.
To finish, the third sector should seek to hold and operate to the highest standards, after all the safeguard is the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people. Given the involvement of Walmart and how both Fareshare and Trussell trust have done everything they can to spread their poor food model nationwide – it is fair that those standards have been compromised. Trying to remain somewhat fair, if the £20m the two organisations have now secured is used to;-
1. Make sure people have access to good fresh food by choice
2. Make sure no waste is passed on to community groups at their cost. Taking in only the food that can be used, leaving ASDA with costs of the rest and holding them to account and;
3. Make sure that volunteers get jobs, rather than just create more volunteer roles to roll out more food banks or distribution units
Then maybe, just maybe, there will be some good reason for this deal. But our experience of working with and watching Trussell and Fareshare operate is that the opposite will roll out – lets all wait and see eh?
It was useful to see IFAN stand their ground and raise their concerns. Now the door is open for others to follow. More importantly, it will be very interesting to see who over time buys in with the offer of some of the benefits of the £20m. In the long run, if many of the current food poverty entities do, the integrity of the sector will be threatened and the big losers will be the people hungry and still forced to take poor food handouts.
As we said in our last blog, there are already options and stronger routes to stopping hunger, let’s see what happens next?
The story goes; no matter the quality – food-aid food is better than no food at all. A story told by those who will never have to eat it.
In the 7 or so years since the Conservative/Lib Dem took hold of the governmental reigns and decided that it was fair to make working class people pay for the wilful acts of bankers, two storylines have dominated the UK social policy landscape. The first is austerity. The second is poverty.
The mind that creates austerity and sells it as fair is an evil mind, and the collective minds that agree and create policy and foist it upon millions of people are both callous and evil in equal measure.
The Conservative right, who are now the dominant political force, care not for suffering or the plight of others, their interests will always lay elsewhere protecting neo-liberal/ capitalist, small government, low taxation ways – the place evil-like austerity is dreamed up.
Back in the 18th century, Thomas Malthus and Joseph Townsend (both clerics) said ‘It is only hunger which can spur and goad them onto labour.’ Disinterred, precarity and desperation are recast as the necessary incentives to encourage the poor to work harder¹. A century later and this was the thinking of George Osbourne, Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith when they, and others, agreed to slash benefits and push people desperately into low-paid or no-paid jobs and towards and into hunger. It was a story of bankers bankrupting a nation recast as working class scroungers and skivers – lazy benefit cheats that need to be forced to work like the rest of us – it’s been a story well told.
Alongside, the second storyline has been concurrent and a story equally well told. It’s one of poverty and in particular food poverty and how millions of people are relying on food handouts without which they would never cope. The difference here though is that the story is not pushed by Government but by the charity/third sector. It is a story so well told that the food poverty response led by big charities is now almost inseparable from the problem although the story told by those same charities is somewhat different, claiming they are indeed feeding people as well as can be expected, after what else would they say? They get away with this largely because of the desperation of those who are hungry and because often working-class people are regarded as culturally unsophisticated and parochial in their concerns. They are assumed too preoccupied with everything being working class entails to think beyond where their next crispy pancake is coming from.²
And it is those assumptions in part that drive the charity food aid storyline.
After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.³ They capture our imagination and inspire and galvanise us to act.⁴ As both the government/third sector stories are being played out, it’s all about telling the same story over and over again and blocking out any objection in order to hold onto a moral high ground they both require for their stories to hold true.
Interestingly, both stories are politically/socially right-wing; believing they know best, pretending they have people’s best interests to heart and as much as they can, stopping/ignoring any counter argument. You have got to ask, as you watch those who hold the influence in the third sector food poverty debate, whether they recognise the hypocrisy of this element of their work; pressing the Government for policy change by claiming all that they do but never being able to accommodate any alternative discussion about the poor-food-for-poor-people model they hold so dear. A model that amounts to nothing more than ‘nutritional-austerity’.
Last week, an article appeared online and was retweeted widely by the food aid fraternity and academics alike. One paragraph was quite telling, it read;
‘People affected by food poverty face severe threats to their health and wellbeing. As well as stress, depression and anxiety that can result from not having enough money to feed their families, people experiencing food poverty also face a higher risk of obesity, because the only foods they can afford tend to be cheap, sugary, processed and fattening.’ ₅
It’s a paragraph that tells readers that a problem those with no or low incomes face is dealing with a life-threatening condition because of the food that they eat. Yet it is the very same food that the food aid model pushes out as its only offer. And 8 years on from when the current food aid food parcel was created, it remains its only offer – but sadly the story/claims are to the contrary.
In this blog space, as we write to raise these issues, we get academics contacting us asking for the evidence about why the food bank parcel is damaging to people’s health or cannot be eaten due to its poor processed quality. Our response starts with…how about the last 15 years of public health studies that have declared ultra-processed food wholly damaging to people’s health – the very same food that is in a food bank parcel. What we get back is silence – is it simply intelligent people unable make the connection? We don’t think so.
It is more likely that academics have become too close to organisations like Trussell (who hold a lot of the food poverty data) and need them for their research support to propagate their own stories.
It is also apparent that there are a group of Northern based academics who have written books and numerous papers on the subject, discussing every topic in detail but not once ever (to our knowledge) discussing the topic of poor-food-for-poor-people. The closest reference we have found (whilst hardly definitive), does indicate some sort of ‘progress’…
‘It’s going to be essential that our thinking is broad and ambitious and that it challenges contemporary minimalist tendencies in both understanding and responding to poverty and hunger. In particular, conceptualisations of the problem of food insecurity of not only dietary intake, but also the experience of acquiring food and the sustainability of those acquisition sources in the future.’₆
With the wealth of research/information available about crap food and the serious health problems it causes, it is fair to ask the question…why have most academics, and certainly those in the North of England chosen to avoid the subject? The question is important, because until those who can raise/write about the issue, the poor-food storyline will continue, promoted by influential storytellers who have so far proven themselves wedded to feeding people badly.
Creating a New Storyline
The need for a new story to be told that pushes back austerity is now being taken up by the Labour Party and with luck we may see a Labour Government soon. However, changing the damage austerity has done will take a parliament or two, so poverty will be with us at the level it is for maybe the next decade. It is therefore massively important that the second storyline of poverty, and in particular food poverty, being all the fault of this Government, undergoes a change. A change that is honest about the problem and honest about the solutions to the problem, and here we are talking about the problem being poor food being the only option available – it’s not – but the storyline is so wedded to the survival of certain charities that any change is going to be oh so difficult to achieve.
A sting of facts, however well attested, have no power in correcting or dislodging a powerful story. The only response it is likely to provoke is indignation: people often deny facts that clash with the narrative ‘truth’ established in their own minds. It’s not enough to challenge an old narrative no matter how discredited it may be. Change only happens when you replace it with another. ₇
We naively thought that by gathering the facts about how poor the quality food bank produce is, and how damaging it is to people’s heath, that politicians and decision makers would sit up and take notice. In fact, 4 years ago when we presented this as a problem to food banks and Trussell et al, together with a solution or two, we believed they would want to take notice too. Instead, the politicians all said they wanted/want rid of food banks and they knew/know the food is poor quality but hope for big policy change and as for Trussell et al; in short they took/take no notice – 4 years on, the same problem exists and hungry people remain poorly fed because of the decisions of those in government and the third sector.
So how does the story change? There are a number of possible storylines.
Remain true to the current story and watch food poverty/ food banks become the feature they are in North America – here forever with the state grateful for the work they do – easing the pressure of real policy change. Or, start a new story of a third sector working together with the intelligence it has to create good-food-banks and a wider good-food-movement, feeding people well and still pressuring Government for change.
The solutions are here already and what a story it would be for the UK to be the first country to roll out a good food poverty model. We remain confused why others in the food poverty industry do not want this story to take hold and we remain frustrated also that they choose to ignore good food options and hold onto feeding people food they would never choose to eat themselves.