The 80% Factor

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.

The Predicament:

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.

You can read our response here.

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.

3 Day Foodbank Parcel


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…

food standards.

We think a legitimate and fair step forward would be to create food standards for food-aid.


Last week Sustain asked for the public to respond to the question… what should be the nutritional standards for hospital and prison food? A questions asked of two institutions that already dispense higher quality food than food banks. Also consider this; hungry people are consumers – they consume food dispensed by food banks and other charities, so should be covered by the work and direction of the Food Standards Agency who state ‘We put consumers first in everything we do’ and “The main objective of the Agency in carrying out its functions is to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food (including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied) and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food.

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.