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5 Years in Food Poverty

Part 1

Lessons Learnt

Looking back 5 years is a long time in food poverty. We started out with the best intentions, trying to organise, trying to make sense of it all, wanting to make a substantial change and, above all, wanting to feed people well.

Our journey started by arranging 3 conferences, all delivered in quick succession, intended to generate momentum and purpose. Throughout the conference attendees enthusiastically backed, on record, our aim to improve the quality of the food offering; there was not a single detractor amongst the 160 organisations in attendance. Yet, 3 years on from the last conference, most of the same organisations have done little or nothing to instigate any sort of change. Instead what they have preferred to do is pretend progress; criticise but claim it’s only meant to be constructive and never once be prepared to enter in to real discussions about creating the sort of change that would make sure hungry people are fed well.

As we tell our 5-year story in this series of short blogs we retain the same position we began with back in 2012 – food poverty can be stopped if the goal is making sure hungry people have access to good fresh food by choice. Everything we have done has focused solely on this goal – here is the story so far!

Absolute or Relative – Creating a Good Food System

When people are talking about food poverty what do they mean? Too often the term is being used as a catch all for everything going on in the poverty framework – it’s unfortunately trendy for organisations to say “we are in food poverty” but without a substantive reference point as to why and on behalf of whom?

From our experience, there are two types of food poverty;

Absolute: Capturing people who have no food whatsoever and are reliant on food banks and other such services for some sort of sustenance. This area is heavily populated with the supply offered by food banks etc.

Relative: Capturing people who have some means to avoid the use of food banks yet regularly skip meals due to finances. This area of work is completely under-developed and largely hidden. It’s the area where the festering struggle of millions of people starts to take shape, it’s the stage before these people find themselves descended on the food chain and into the reliance of food banks, i.e. absolute poverty.

Helping those who are absolutely skint should remain a priority, but we now must look to help those who are teetering on the edge and are therefore relatively skint, if you like. It’s time to arrange local food services to look after everyone with a good food offer. Doing this, and we think it can be done, means;

  • If people have nothing – they will get good food.
  • If they have a little – they will get good food.
  • If children are at school – they will get good food.
  • If older people are in care or returning home from hospital – they will get good food.
  • If people want to shop – there will be good food to buy.

Our experience of developing good food services, together with the food poverty work we have undertaken, has given us the will and knowledge to plan a model of delivery that we have called Good Food Areas. We are resolute in our conviction that this model can stop food poverty in every area it is set up to deliver in; it is this model that will now take our work forward. This model will launch quietly in September and we are currently negotiating with local authorities who will act as partners in a region-wide rollout.

What is innovative about GFA’s is that it utilises and improves the food services that already exist within every community and then re-uses elements of the profits to ensure that no person goes hungry and everyone has access to good food options. And by good food options we mean; options to shop, options to access subsidised meals and at-all-times, options that allow hungry families to access to freshly cooked meals in their time of crisis.

There is a lot of detail to the model, too much for a blog. If you are interested in the direction we are taking and have questions, please contact us.

Part 2:

Why Sandwiches Are Dangerous

The whiter the bread the sooner you’ll be dead.” –  Michael Pollan

Time to discuss the value of a sandwich in working class communities right across the UK. Of course, not all sandwiches are the same but we are not talking about a Waldorf here – far from it. The sandwiches we come across, made to provide children with a meal, amount to not much more nutrition than a packet of crisps.

“You could take your eye out with one of those!” A friend of ours once said when discussing all that cardboard like white bread with cardboard like processed cheese – she was of course exaggerating, but not by much, and her point does set the context for why sandwiches are such a big problem when dealing with children’s diet and hunger.

We have found, via our Share-Holiday-Hunger-Campaign, that a lot of children we fed were wholly locked into the offer of a sandwich – it is their “food comfort blanket”, and when the sandwich wasn’t there for them, it took some coaxing to switch them into trying/eating a good meal. It is a learnt behaviour (a dependency) taken on from both the home and school environments; in both, the headteacher and the parent is making their sandwich decision based on saving time and money.

Let’s be clear, a sandwich should never be a meal and always a snack – a filler and not a meal replacement. Sandwiches are a cheap and easy fix and, because of this, they have become a mainstay – useful for getting people past that initial hunger pang. They are, though, only that; a quick and easy fix – and what comes next and just as quickly (particularly for the child who is playing or studying), is that return to hunger and the need for a good meal.

Most of us love a sandwich, we do because we can choose to eat that sandwich safe in the knowledge that a good hearty meal will soon follow. But for those who do not have the same choices, or for the children who are forced or continually tempted at home, in centres or at school by the offer of a sandwich alone – on their behalf, it’s time to discuss the consequences.

Most sandwiches served in working class communities consist of (with the odd scattering of lettuce, or maybe a slice of tomato or cucumber);-

  • Only processed products (cheese and ham being favourites) sat inbetween white bread or worse still;-
  • Chocolate spread

It is a composition of foodstuffs analysed by experts to damage people’s health in the medium/long term. In the current poverty climate and given our insight into children’s food dependencies, it’s fair to estimate that up to a million children could be regular diners on just those poor food sandwiches. Becoming the go-to meal replacement for children who are also enduring many other struggles; it is no doubt a contributor to the ongoing public health crisis that is the blight of so many children nationwide.

It is therefore the responsibility of everyone involved in the food poverty movement to realise the deficiencies of the sandwich offer and to come up with viable option. It is a problem hidden within a bigger problem and going unrecognised. Processed ingredients between two slices of bread, intended as a meal, have no place whatsoever in feeding hungry children.

Now is the time to start the discussion about how good sandwiches (snacks made from fresh ingredients), can be part of the solution, and as we start the discussion, the ‘some food is better than no food’ argument has long gone and on behalf of the children who deserve better, they should get better.