You could ask a hundred people to define the same term and you’d likely get a hundred different answers. Ask a friend for the definition of spring and they’d tell you it’s their favourite season, ask a five-year-old and they’ll say it’s what makes their trampoline so bouncy.
When it comes to definition and interpretation, these blurred lines are often unavoidable, necessary even as meanings continually evolve along with society. But when it comes to people going hungry, these in-between, unsure and not-too-certain grey areas are dangerous.
Take the dictionary definition of food for example;
‘any nutritious substance that people eat in order to maintain life’.
‘a stock of something available for use when required’.
And now, food bank;
‘a place where stocks of food, typically basic provisions and non-perishables, are supplied free to people in need’.
You see how the definition has changed as the two words have been joined for effect. Gone is any reference to nutrition, replaced instead with the words ‘non-perishables’. Food banks are now institutionalised and as such, the food that these institutions supply is their priority. it’s their established service, their daily operation, it is, by their very definition, their primary concern. Yet, as we continue to uncover, the largest food-aid bodies have broadened that definition so widely that they see themselves not as a distributor with service, but as ‘campaigners’ with ‘lived’ experience – a voice rather than a purveyor of food. Ask any hungry person what they require – good food or a service that speaks on their behalf? Without doubt every hungry person will choose good food.
To challenge austerity and political poverty drivers is commendable, and charity has a role in giving voice to these issues. It’s important, it needs to be done – it’s what we do here at Can Cook. But it cannot infringe on the value or quality of a charity’s principal service. When it comes to food banks, quality food distribution shouldn’t be a supplement to political campaigning – political campaigning should always be a supplement to quality food distribution. But as we all know, quality food distribution is contentious – a tension brought about by those who will probably never be hungry and therefore never have to eat food bank food. So, what is a fair route to resolving this issue and what is a route that is wholly based on equality and health?
If you chase two rabbits, you’ll lose them both.
In everyday life, we all benefit from food standards, set to protect our health and wellbeing. Standards to protect food production and supply. However, they were set without any reference to the waste and want generated by the supply of food-aid. That’s why food-aid standards are so vital. Food-aid standards isn’t a request that’s beyond the means of Trussell Trust and Co, it’s not a request that requires huge structural change or mammoth investment. Food-aid standards is a call requiring just one step that food-aid can take as a collective unit to work with a nationwide pool of donors and communities being able to protect the health and wellbeing of millions going hungry.
If you’re against this call, ask yourself why. Why wouldn’t you want families and children in food poverty to be fed well? Many have stood behind the call and we thank those that have involved themselves in what we’re calling the #DOnation pledge, but it hasn’t been without its detractors.
Scanning through the comments we’ve received across social media, there has been not one critic who’s been against the mission of introducing food-aid standards – instead that criticism has stemmed from the fact that this campaign has been directed at the indolence of food-aid bodies rather than the UK government. One comment in particular read; ‘To criticise food charities for their efforts is like castigating an amateur fishing vessel for not being a fully equipped lifeboat when it rescues someone at sea.’ Really? After ten years of the same food-aid service, a service that 80% of hungry people do not use, do we not seek to proactively create the best lifeboats for ourselves, or we do let people drown in the name of ‘there should be an equipped lifeboat already provided’?
Do we, as a nation knee-deep in food poverty, allow a child to remain without fresh food in the name of ‘we don’t want to let the government off the hook’?
Let’s be clear, the mere existence of a food banks has let the Government off the hook, and it’s a Government that really does not care whether a child is eating a freshly made roast dinner or a tinned Fray Bentos pie. Moreover, speak to the Labour Shadow Cabinet and they will admit that in power, any changes they administer will take years to progress. Let’s face reality – our government is not going to change at the rate that we need it to, at the rate that food-aid can (if it wants to). So, with an uncaring Government and right now an ineffective opposition – where and when will the policy change of tomorrow come from? Are we to leave the system as it is and continue on feeding hungry people the worst food in modern production? Surely any charity that sees itself as a counter to social ills would never want to feed hungry people this way, but sadly they do.
It’s rather strange that we have a food-aid system full of charities who believe they can change Government policy, but do not have the means to change the quality of their service or do not see it as their role to do so. Food-aid charities should only ever be about feeding the most vulnerable people well – any deference shown here, no matter its intent, is a derogation of charitable duty – and it is reactive in the extreme.
Introducing food-aid standards will:
Generate a good food supply to feed people well
Make sure the private sector provides only good food into the food-aid supply chain
Stop food waste (right now over 50% of food donated for food-aid is wasted)
Enable food parcels that are standard not random – quality over quantity
Provide improved training/job opportunities for volunteers
We hope you join the campaign to introduce food-aid standards and make sure that people going hungry are fed with the dignity that they deserve.
Reactive: ‘acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it’.
Definitions are a funny thing.
*Update – We are currently in conversation with Shadow MP’s & Governmental Departments in our effort to introduce food-aid standards. If you’d like to show your support, tweet using the #DOnation hashtag.
There exists a UK-approved international treaty that recognises the right to ‘nutritionally adequate and safe food for every individual.’ We know that today, due to unprecedented levels of UK poverty, this right is not upheld. We could support this claim by publishing a vast array of figures and statistics, but I don’t think we need to.
This year, a report commissioned by the UN attributed the UK’s national poverty crisis to ‘deliberate policy choices’ that have removed the UK’s social safety net.
They’re right. To stop food poverty, government policy must change.
To end hunger, a variety of government reforms and actions and strategies must be addressed.
These policy changes, as we have learned, will undoubtedly, deplorably even, be delivered slowly and incoherently – if they’re to be delivered at all.
Should we be infuriated at this political indolence and unwillingness?
Should we remain outraged that our most vulnerable citizens are consistently endangered by the government’s experiments in austerity?
Should we, as one Guardian article put it, be vociferously ‘discomforted’ at the mere existence of food banks in 2019 Britain?
Yes. Undoubtedly so.
But right now, today, food banks do exist.
And if there’s one change we can make, on behalf of a child going hungry today, it’s introducing food standards into food banks. Because today, there are over 1200 UK food banks that do not supply fresh food – and today there are millions of families relying on ultra-processed, unhealthy food at potentially the hardest time in their lives.
So our message to you is, keep fighting. Keep doing it. Keep pleading. Keep putting pressure on our government to eradicate poverty. We’re standing with you.
And right now, today, we need you to stand with us.
Support the introduction of food standards for national food-aid bodies. Share this post as far and wide as your can, using the hashtag #doNATION across social media and let’s change millions of lives for the better.
While we fight for a fairer tomorrow, let’s create a fairer today.
For some time now we have been alerting the public to a food-aid predicament.
Set up to feed hungry people, food-aid in fact does quite the opposite with only 20% of those going hungry choosing to go to food banks. The reason? The stigma families face from requiring food-aid often acts as a deterrent to accessing it, and, as we will address here, because the quality of the food dispensed is so poor. For clarification, food-aid is an austerity food model response to a public austerity system; forcing hungry people to eat poor-food because they are poor.
“Food-aid is an austerity food model response to a public austerity system; forcing people to eat poor-food because they are poor.”
It is a predicament well known to the food-aid sector, but ignored because they are resolute in their position that poor-food-for-hungry-people is their preferred position, insisting through the promotion of long-standing and spurious defence that only poor-food is viable in treating hunger. Therefore, with 80% of the nation’s hungry people desperately in need of a service that feeds them, lets unpick the predicament, the reasons for the predicament and then suggest a viable way forward.
As already stated, but well worth repeating – 80% of hungry people do not access any formal structure of food-aid, in part due to the poor-food offer. This means even though the service is free, as many as 5 million people deemed food-insecure are remaining hungry or are going it alone with all that entails. This is a public health crisis.
The Reasons for the Predicament:
The same poor-food model has been in place for 10 years with no improvement. Last week two studies indicating ‘killer-foods’ to be avoided were published. The alert was to ask the public to consider avoiding eating these ultra-processed foods to prolong healthier lives. Yet, this is the same food often included in a typical food bank parcel – a fact known to food-aid and its various alliances – a fact ignored as the same sector/alliances sanction a two-tier food system that puts hungry people right at the bottom of the food pile.
“…a two-tier food system that puts hungry people right at the bottom of the food pile.”
In the defence of their food bank parcel – a parcel given out to 1.8m people in a calendar year – the Trussell Trust insist:
Food banks can’t store perishable food because they do not have fridges.
Tins and non-perishable products are easier for the public to donate and their volunteers to dispense. And here is the most spurious;
Fresh food is too heavy for hungry people to carry home because they often live miles away from the food bank – yes, the Trussell Trust actually said this to us.
About Fridges: Should any ‘food’ entity ever set out to dispense food without setting out to provide fresh as part of its offer? We think not. This no-fridge excuse has been around for 10 years and still no fridges are forthcoming. A large, second-hand fridge costs £100. Are we really saying that local fundraising would not be able to raise £100? Surely not. Or consider this, the Trussell Trust were given a £10m grant by ASDA to improve its food bank structure. If the Trussell Trust chose to purchase new fridges for all 1200 of their distribution points (at £175 each), it would cost £210,000, which would leave £9,790,000 of their ASDA grant to spend on their management team development etc.
But this was never going to happen, instead the Trussell Trust produced this report, attempting to justify their poor-food model. As you read the report here (and if you are an academic, a dietitian, or public health worker or whoever) note the flimsy methodology, the subjective term ‘Nutritionally-Adequate’, and the ‘big food change’ they made following the report publication.
About Public Donations: For 5 years we have suggested a strong starting point to change the food supply into food banks is to ‘educate-the-donor’. Ask the public to donate only the goods necessary to feed hungry people well. The public have already proved themselves generous, so are we saying the same public would not donate the correct food if given the good-food option? – Of course not. But Trussell maintain that to change the request from poor-food to good-food would put donors off – really?! We will leave you to decide. We have written more on this subject here.
Fresh food is too heavy to carry home: Think about this, a defence made is that tinned food is lighter to carry than fresh food. Again, we will leave you to decide.
All of this leaves us with a predicament that means food banks:
Only dispense ultra-processed ‘killer-foods’
Do not cater for any dietary requirements (so where do vegetarians, vegans, gluten intolerant etc go?)
Only offer food that can be eaten as products and not meals. As a modern society, we do not eat products, so why is this okay for hungry people to do so? And:
Offer food parcels that are nutritionally deficient – at a time when hungry people require the opposite.
To qualify this, take the food parcel challenge. This picture below is of a Trussell Trust Family food parcel, intended to feed a family for 3 days. So here is your challenge – devise a meal for you and your family and when you have done so, create another one. Here are the rules – family portions, nutritious, and creating something you would be happy to eat yourself. Send us your results.
Now watch and consider this. A video sanctioned by the Trussell Trust and a recipe devised by a chef. This is how hungry people are being advised to eat a food parcel. Again, ask yourself, how would you feel if you had no choice but to eat this food?
Food Standards for Food-Aid:
What we propose is nothing dramatic, just something similar to what we the mainstream public already enjoy…
We think a legitimate and fair step forward would be to create food standards for food-aid.
Therefore, it is right to extend the reach of food standards to cover all aspects of food-aid.
Food standards for food-aid would improve the quality of the food that food banks manage and most importantly, protect the health of wellbeing of hungry people. To achieve this the normal course of action would need to take place:-
Produce draft standards
Have the draft standards agreed by the food-aid sector (preferable), academics, professional/public bodies = BMA, BDA, Public Health England etc
Lobby for support of MP’s / Ministers
Lobbying support of the relevant GOV civil service departments
All things considered, the poor-food-for-poor-people model has been exposed for what it is and those who understand the need for good food to protect a person’s health, agree change is required. It is unlikely that Trussell Trust/FareShare will agree to any change, because their whole model depends on the distribution of poor-food. Therefore, any future adoption will require change from others within the various food-aid Alliances that are set up to protect the welfare and prospects of hungry people – time will tell if any within these groups are willing to break ranks.
We propose to pursue this via political means in the first instance. We hope the food-aid sector will come on board.
If you want to offer support, please get in touch.
Recently, the number of people using food banks were said to have increased substantially. In Wales alone, the use of food banks is up by 14% on previous estimates. Throughout the UK, the issue of poverty and how it is to be tackled is the biggest single social issue we face.
‘Hungry children struggle to learn and play, hungry adults struggle to cope with the pressures that poverty brings.’
Within this struggle, it is incumbent on the public and third sectors to do much more than add to the pressures people face. Food banks and their structure is a valuable resource, providing points of contact and some measure of security to vulnerable people. However, Food aid is now an industry. Led by charities who have chosen a route similar to the food-aid movement in the USA – notably becoming the recipient of large-scale funding and waste food provided by private sector food companies.  This approach means, without further need for clarification, that food-aid has become institutionalised. It’s a model that’s favoured by government, promoted by charities, supported by the press and, as a consequence, largely trusted by a well-meaning but misinformed, public.
Alongside this growth of food aid charity, the growth of food poverty has been exponential with one continuum throughout; the food offer has remained very poor. Originally, the concept of food-aid was designed to be a stop-gap, available to assist hungry/vulnerable people to get over a short crisis. Now the provision is expected to do much more than fill a gap. It is now about supporting people for much longer periods. For many people, poverty has become a forced lifestyle with food-aid required to play an integral role in their lives. Food-aid therefore, should always be about feeding people well – it should be about equality of standards and it most definitely should be about protecting peoples’ health.
Food banks are, by their very name, purveyors of food. The growth of the model determines that it operates like a business, masked behind the badge of charity. Food banks trade their services into communities, drawing from a supply chain that includes masses of food from the private supply chain. It is therefore fair to ask food banks, and the logistics that serve them, to adhere to food standards – food standards that protect the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in the UK.
So far, food standards as they exist, are ignored by the food bank structure and the public sector appear to sanction this, in order to facilitate a poor-food service that is at least ‘doing something’ to feed hungry people. The poorest people therefore, have no choice other than to eat the poorest food the modern food industry can serve up. No longer can this ‘doing something’ attitude suffice and no longer can the health and wellbeing of those deemed to be poor, be undermined. The whole food aid landscape needs to change to move beyond a service delivery that is about quantity over quality and into a service that is truly about good food for all. Introducing/implementing food-aid food standards would an important step in the right direction.
There is no doubt we face another decade of food aid and with the past 10 years to reference, it is only right and fair to those who will need to access it that the food offered to them is improved and protected. Too much of the past debate has been emotive and about ignoring the facts. It is, therefore, time for the food-aid movement to start to self-regulate and to want to feed people well.
Much has been written about the need for policy changes to benefits and rightly so, but they will not happen without a change of government and even then, it could take years. People are hungry and need good food, it is not fair or just to keep them waiting when solutions are available. The next step requires leadership from those in leadership positions and it requires focused attention upstream and into government to extract achievable change that has a chance to improve the indignity people face when hungry.
Below we’ve begun our list of food-aid standards we want to be implemented across all food aid offered in the UK (there are others to add). We’re inviting you, the reader, whatever your involvement is with the food-aid sector, to add to this list through the comments section below or using the hashtag #FoodAid and at @foodpoverty. Let us know what improvements you want to see, and as we develop the campaign, help us to protect the health and welfare of millions currently going hungry.
We’ve started the list below – our standards relate to the food only – transport and storage are already covered in by existing standards for business.
Food-aid should cater for cultural differences and dietary requirements
Food-aid should remove the use of tinned meats
Food-aid should remove the use of any end-of-date products
Food-aid should supply fresh fruit and vegetables
Food-aid parcels should always be able to provide nutritious family meals, and to help facilitate this
Refrigeration should be available at all food-aid outlet
Taking steps to create good food aid standards is something that can be done now. It is time to design a service that puts the hungry person first – the list we have started here, can already be provided if the food aid sector chooses to take part, so there is no block from a delivery point of view. However, to date, the same food aid sector chooses not to – maybe the next 12 months will see a positive change?
 ASDA donated £20m to FareShare and Trussell Trust to expand food aid provision.