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.
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;-
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.
At Can Cook, we’ve been catering for older people across the Liverpool City Region for almost 2 years. Our COOKED chilled meals-on-wheels service delivers fresh, delicious meals to our customers each week; providing a much-needed service for dozens of individuals across Merseyside.
As a catering provision and anti-food poverty social enterprise, Can Cook is resolute in its efforts to improve the lifestyles of older people in our region. So far we’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this goal through the provision of good food and fresh produce, and now we’ve turned to innovative technology to support us in our mission.
Along with a host of European partners, including Liverpool’s very own Red Ninja Studios, we’ve been working to co-develop ‘Cordon Gris’; an upcoming smartphone application that will assist older people in managing meal plans, their grocery budgets, food choices and preventing malnutrition.
Older people in our most deprived communities are especially at risk of malnutrition, and with over 1.3 million over 65’s suffering from malnourishment in the UK alone, it’s our collective goal to provide older people with the tools they need to improve their health and ensure access to fresher food and a better lifestyle.
Follow @CordonGris on twitter to keep updated on the app’s progress!
Almost three weeks into 2017, let’s check how our new year’s resolutions are coming along.
We’ve dodged the temptation of the Saturday night takeaway twice, we’ve learned what to do with kale, and the house has been transformed into a chocolate-free zone (mainly because all the Christmas goodies have already been scoffed by our less health-conscious 2016 selves). Even though we may have not been quite as disciplined as we may have promised ourselves on New Year’s Eve, we’re definitely trying.
Check out this list of how processed foods can affect our minds and bodies, just to help keep you motivated in 2017.
The Sugar Crash
Processed foods, high in fat and sugar, are quickly digested by the body and stored as energy. Because of the refined nature of processed ingredients, this little sugar boost is often temporary and followed by an imminent crash once our metabolisms have burnt all the food’s potential energy. These ‘crashes’ make us feel sluggish, unfocused and have us reaching for another sugar snack to restore our lowered energy levels.
The Solution = Trying healthier foods with slow-releasing energy properties, such as eggs, porridge or sweet potato, will help you keep invigorated throughout the day and keep the sugar cravings at bay.
Food, Not-so-glorious Mood
Artificial ingredients in processed foods can wreak havoc with our gut flora, destroying the microbes we need for good mental health. Over time, foods high in sugar can produce negative chemical reactions in the body and affect optimal brain function; often leading to depression and mood swings.
The Answer = Foods high in calcium such as yoghurt and almonds, or in Omega 3 such as salmon and spinach, have been scientifically proven to help boost your mood.
When the sugar in our food responds to fats exposed to high temperatures, like the ones used for processed food preparation, a reaction called ‘exogenous glycation’ occurs. Glycation begins a sequence of reactions that eventually form advanced glycation end-products, aka proteins that can eventually cause collagen breakdown and fine skin lines.
The Answer = The powerful antioxidants in fruit and vegetables help fight against wrinkle-inducing cellular damage. Foods high in vitamin C: blueberries, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, also produce collagen to keep your skin radiant and blemish-free.
Luckily many of us have a choice when it comes to our food, and for the most part we can avoid the processed food pitfalls. Sadly, many have no option but to consume cheap and processed meals because a healthier choice is an unaffordable alternative. Here at Can Cook we pride ourselves on providing fresher and more nutritious meals for those living with food poverty.
Somehow we all believe ourselves to be masters of our own ships and controllers of our own future. We imagine that the paths to where we’re going will be as linear and uninterrupted as we hoped they’d be the moment we decided to create them. For better or worse, that’s rarely the case.
Once graduating from university I found myself lost on the road I’d created for myself three years previously. There was no trail of breadcrumbs to remember how I’d navigated the journey so far, and there was only a foggy obscurity ahead.
Fortunately, that’s when I discovered Agent Academy: a programme created by Agent Marketing to help young people just like me who knew what their passions were but were unsure which avenues were best to manifest them. Through Agent I had the opportunity to meet amazing creative companies throughout the North West, each an innovative addition to England’s ever-expanding digital marketing culture.
When Agent introduced us to Can Cook I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it as a catering service and of its reputation for healthy affordable dishes, but not much else. When Robbie and Laura described to the academy the work they do to tackle food poverty, I was more than shocked. As the session went on they broke down every misconception I had about food poverty in the city region and provided the tactical solutions they undertook to defeat the problem. There was a transparency about the company that was refreshing and thought-provoking: they genuinely cared. I saw the level of enthusiasm the team had for making a substantial difference, and though I wanted a piece of it, I didn’t know how my interests in marketing and content production could help. Luckily Can Cook did…and here I am.
Not everybody endures such a smooth pathway, for many the road is often more turbulent and the opportunities to change their journey are limited and rarely present themselves along the way. That’s what Can Cook does. Their work can change the directions of those who need it; allowing them to be fulfilled, nourished, supported and most importantly, hopeful. Can Cook has a mission to end food poverty in the city region, a mighty task we know, but with the right dedication it’s definitely an achievable one. And I’m honoured to be part of it.
Thank you to Robbie and Laura for the opportunity and thanks to all the team for being so welcoming.