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Goodbye For Now

So here it is, my last ever blog for Can Cook. It’s been a wonderful, eye-opening two years working for the team and on this, my last day, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Just Do It
When we look at some of the biggest issues facing our country, our world even, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of ‘I’m too small to do anything about it – I’m just one person, what difference could I possibly make?’
That cycle can become even more infuriating when we continue to say what we’d like to do but not actually follow through with it, getting caught in this pessimistic revolving door that has no end.
My advice?
Just do it.
Working in food poverty, too often I see people talking about the barriers they face in combatting hunger. Too often they’ll say ‘in an ideal world people going hungry would have fresh food’ but then they’ll go on to list the same decade-long reasons of why that can’t possibly happen.
At Can Cook I’ve learned not to see anything as a barrier, it’s just a puzzle – and one with a solution. And sometimes the best way to make something work is to just do it, or otherwise you’ll look back with that resounding chorus of ‘I could’ve, but it’s too late now.’
Everyone has a role
Fresh from university, at twenty-one I found myself working for Can Cook. This was an organisation that had built itself on ensuring people ate well and restoring communities through food.
Before joining the team I’d spent three years with my head stuck in books; so how did I fit in? From my first day I saw all these chefs creating this amazing food and a team of staff who got it out to the people who needed it, connecting with these people and building a service that literally changed lives. And there I was, a student with no experience trying to find my place.
But I was creative.
I had ideas.
And soon I learned I could do all these little things that turned into big things and then bigger things and I quickly learned I could create for myself someone who did belong. And all these things that I could do meant I could help change lives too.
I learned then never to underestimate the power of thoughts, because each day those thoughts become actions.
Nobody has a role
Working as part of a small organisation with big dreams and big potential has given me the chance, through both nature and necessity, to do things I never thought I’d be able to, and see things I never thought I would. For the last two years almost nothing has been outside of my job ‘role’. For the last two years I’ve been able to lend a hand wherever I could, learn new things whenever I could, connect with new people in every walk of life and bring a fresh perspective to each task I worked through. It’s been a foundation I know will carry me through the rest of my adult life.
Things aren’t always as they seem
Working in social media teaches you a lot of things – and there are some lessons you learn the hard way. Too often I respond to a slew of criticism and judgement because I’m part of an organisation that fights for what it believes in. That transparency doesn’t always translate – and sometimes it makes you look like the bad guy.
For the last two years I’ve studied, observed and interacted with seemingly well-meaning people and organisations whose agenda is anything but helping others. Disappointingly I’ve learned that there are too many companies who simply want to profit behind the misfortune of others and do so behind a façade of false narratives and big promotion and silent walls that come up as soon as they’re questioned.
Can Cook really, truly is fighting to end food poverty and ensure anyone going hungry is fed well. And if that sometimes makes us seem combative or frustrated or even angry towards those that we feel have hidden intentions – then so be it.
I’ve learned to let the work speak for itself.
The little things are important
There are things we all take for granted every day – little things that in the past two years I’ve learned are so important.
Visiting communities and speaking to families I’ve seen the impact such small differences can make. I’ve seen grown men reduced to tears simply because we’ve been able to offer them fresh milk – and suddenly they don’t have to depend on dry cereal to get by. I’ve seen older people who, because of our services, have gotten their life back in older age. I’ve spoken to mothers who will tell me their life story, at first to justify their need, and then simply just to talk, and walk away with a genuine smile because someone was there to listen.
Those little things, to some people, can mean the most.
Slow cookers are the future
No, this isn’t some sort of eleventh hour promotion I swear. Slow cookers literally are the future.
When I first joined Can Cook I don’t think I’d ever cooked a fresh meal from scratch. Can Cook introduced me to the slow cooker and now I couldn’t live without it. Now I make everything fresh – chop it up, throw it into the slow cooker, and some spices and water and it’s good to go. It’s so easy – it feels like cheating. If you don’t have one, get one – and while you’re at it check out our Slow Cooker Bags. You can thank me later.
The Power of Food
I’ve always known that food matters, but until I joined Can Cook I never knew how much it really can affect people.
In the last two years I’ve worked with so many different groups of people who were struggling, and sometimes all it took was good food to literally change their lives.
I’ve worked with parents of severely ill children who, because of all the things that come with having a sick child, cannot eat well for themselves – and because they’re not eating well they struggle to cope with the daily pressures of their circumstance. Introduce good food and suddenly they have a lifeline; make that food convenient and accessible and suddenly they don’t have to go hungry or reach for a sandwich – suddenly they’re taking care of themselves and they can concentrate on what matters most.
I’ve worked with families who have no fresh food in their cupboards, families who cannot cook for themselves, with people who are so isolated they have to rely on the worst food in modern production because that’s all that they can get their hands on.
Introduce good food and suddenly they take control, suddenly they have the tools to move on from crisis, suddenly they have their independence and they feel good and they do better and they live healthier and they come together as a community.
It’s important stuff, food, and I’ll always take that with me.
Wherever I go.
Goodbye for now,
Leigh

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Definition: Reactive

Definitions are a funny thing.

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’.

Or bank;

‘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.

donation caption

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.