This blog is a polemic and rightly so. There needs to be a counter-fact-based-narrative to the misleading stories put out by Trussell and FareShare. Stories often supported by some academics, food aid alliances, the press, food think-tanks – the list is growing. Stories that are kidding the public that hunger in this country is being dealt with – it’s not
Much of the work we do, is to prove the difference good food makes to someone’s life if they are hungry. And, a further tranche of time is spent campaigning to change the current food aid system. A system that keeps the majority of hungry people hungry but claims otherwise. It is system that has become an industry and as an industry, it is much more concerned about its own growth than feeding people well.
It is a very resilient person that can cope enough to get themselves out of a crisis, if they are hungry. Hunger saps a persons’ energy, confidence and motivation. Moreover, hunger prevents a person from thinking beyond where the next meal will come from. And in the UK today, we have a Government and a food aid system that expect hungry vulnerable people to cope and thrive on a diet of ultra-processed, random food or simply, go without.
A substantial amount of what is offered as food aid is controlled by the overtone of religion. Sometimes, within the mix of church/charity and of course the work of Trussell Trust where prayer is often present before any food is dispensed. True faith-based approaches should always carry the narrative of fairness, care and most definitely love. Love is, of course, a provocative word and is open to wide interpretation by those who are charged with providing any kind of support service. Yet, should this ever be the case? Surely love within a crisis-service context means providing the best service possible – one that loves everyone, as we all would want to be loved.
A theologian said “we are not called by god to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love” – And it is extraordinary love that is missing from food-aid. No doubt most food-aiders care, and no doubt the same people want to offer support, but if the backdrop is a food service so poor people can suffer serious health consequences when eating too much of it – extraordinary love is absent.
People in food poverty require options. The same options are available to everyone else who find themselves on better terms. When food aid is required, it is incumbent on those who provide services of support, to make sure the food services pass the ‘extraordinary’ test. Unfortunately, 10 years into the current food aid model, the food service is far from standing up to that test. In fact, the food is awful and the message it conveys to those who are hungry is not at all about fairness or care. So, let’s be clear, there is no reason whatsoever hungry people should have to eat ultra-processed donated/cast off/awful/crap food, and there is certainly no reason why any hungry person should receive crap food, except of course, in the minds of those who design of the food aid sector = FACT.
Anyone involved in food aid who feeds hungry people the worst food a modern society can produce is in contempt of their duties. Food poverty is about the lack of food and nothing else. The Trussell Trust and others such as IFAN, like to claim food poverty is not about food, but about income. Of course, lack of income is the driver, but one leads to the other and when the other is reached, the only thing that matters is the supply of good food.
Good food options are available for every hungry person, but Trussell Trust, FareShare, IFAN, Church Action against Poverty, to name a few, are all trying to kid a public that crap food is the best route to tackling hunger, whilst they all operate and remain noisy about benefits. Hunger has given most of them a fundraising potential beyond their wildest dreams, and some a national platform. They all operate behind the distribution of crap food – food so crap that no one working for these organisations would eat it themselves. We have charities, creating and protecting a model that pushes out foodstuff that is either somebody else’s leftovers and or nothing more than ultra-processed killer foods. And remember many in this group claim this food is nutritious.
It is a mainly white, middle class body of people, pushing their distorted charity/ideological make up onto working class people who require the opposite. It’s also a body of people associated with food think-tanks who are willing to reinforce the worst food habits onto the most vulnerable, in order to sit around tables to inform their next ‘think-pieces’ – its offensive! This group is dangerous, because sitting in London (as most do) they are controlling the political/poverty narrative and without doubt keeping people hungry.
These and others make up the Food-Poverty-Porn-Stars – read on…
If we had a £ for every time we were asked to not challenge or comment about food aid because ‘a lot of good people are working hard to help others’, we would have enough to stop food poverty in its tracks. Therefore, let’s qualify our position. We are not criticising anyone for their hard work or energy, these endeavours have stopped many from falling through the poverty cracks. We are questioning whether all this hard-food-aid-work is the right work to support people who are hungry? And, we are most certainly questioning the complicity of the many who have adopted themselves into the cause of food aid, in order to further their own interests. A place where, for example, academics want to be and where food think-tanks think they have the best chance to inform policy – always looking ahead, never dealing with today.
Academics/think-tanks predict tomorrow based on yesterday and policy is ALWAYS about jam tomorrow and often their judgement is swayed by who helps them with their information – think the various Trussell/FareShare academic research projects.
HUNGER IS ALL ABOUT TODAY – this blog is about HUNGER TODAY and the impact of the poverty-porn-stars and how they keep hungry people – HUNGRY!
These porn-stars are:
Academics: Who have written papers, PHD’s or worse still, books about food banks and food aid but have stayed silent on the quality of the food.
Food-think-tanks or networks: The liberal-jam tomorrow policy wonks, sitting around the various food aid alliances, staying publicly silent on the crap food hungry people have to eat, whilst always commenting on the good food systems they hope to create for themselves and the rest of us who have money to spend.
Every church entity that supports the distribution of ultra-processed food as the only community food option.
The media: Who write and report regularly on the subject, but say nothing about the quality of the food, in fear of upsetting their news source – Trussell/FareShare.
And of course…Trussell Trust and FareShare: Charities, who for example, take £20m from ASDA and use it to strengthen their management teams, marketing and logistics and then claim they want to ‘put themselves out of business’ = SURE!
To use the words of someone else – they have all served to ‘normalise the abnormal’ and the abnormal is to the detriment of hungry people and society as a whole.
NORMALISING THE ABNORMAL:
Let’s look at the abnormal and how the food aid industry turns it into the normal they want the public to believe.
The 3 images below are:
A claim, via letter, made by a Trussell Food Bank in a Tesco store.
A claim made by the same Tesco store and;
The food bank basket that was situated right under the above claims.
Let’s unpick this nonsense, which sets out to falsely convince a public that hunger is being handled.
Firstly, food banks do not give out meals, they dole out random products – see the basket and together let’s try and create a family meal or two.
Processed hotdogs and spaghetti – what could be better?
Or, tinned spaghetti on top of boiled spaghetti – which is a recommended Trussell Food bank meal by the way (click here). Or trying for one more;
Just plain old tinned chicken soup with maybe crisps afterwards…Mmmm, lovely, and every meal so nutritious (more of this later).
Now let’s do the maths…according to the letter:
= 64,000 meals from 22,613kg of goods including toiletries. So .35kg of random stuff including toiletries, creates a meal eh – By whose measurement? = Trussell and FareShare and constantly supported by the food aid alliances.
Remember over 50% of everything given out by Trussell and FareShare is never eaten or returns to landfill. This meal claim is nothing more than inflated nonsense, set up to kid the public and funders alike that food aid is doing something substantial – it’s not, it’s a lie. But point this out to the food aid sector and they rally behind indignant behaviour, aghast that anyone dare be critical of their well-meaning charity stuff.
These indignant food-aid-porn-stars do all they can to protect their lie and to deflect, roll out the now nothing more than trite line… ‘we should never need food banks in a society like ours’ – Well here is the news…we do and this food aid scam is keeping people hungry, creating a food-underclass and conditioning the public that crap food is ok for those who have less than most of us.
NEED and US:
We estimate the hunger problem is more than 4x the suggested published figure – How do we know this?
Unlike most of the food-aid-porn-stars who franchise and intrude into peoples’ lives or prepare a piece of research for a PHD or maybe write a book that has put them in the middle of poverty for a year or so, we have been on the frontline of poverty for 13 years; talking food, teaching food, feeding food, creating a good food model that has been built from peoples’ struggle. We have academics on our Board, we work with dietitians, we have very skilful chefs on staff, and we have staff who themselves have been hungry and spent years unemployed – a fact that matters. We don’t just talk hunger, we have lived hunger and we are every-single-day, feeding hunger.
CAMPAIGNING or PROTEST:
A campaign alerts and sometimes promotes. A protest takes direct action. We mix both, but now mainly focus on protest. Our reasons are;
Food aid provided by the third and private sectors is now as responsible as the Government, for the entrenched position of hunger.
Food poverty is already institutionalised, though food aid groups like to claim otherwise.
The food aid narrative is dominated by white, middle class bodies that reside in the South of England and have no representation from the areas we serve.
Many Faith groups acknowledge that food banks are not the answer, yet they continue to provide food banks as the only option. And;
They all countenance feeding people crap food in the name of charity.
This is the furtive territory of the food-poverty-porn-stars – so let’s get onto to them.
CHARITY and the PORN-STARS:
Take more than a cursory glance at the food aid industry and it’s all Trussell Trust this, FareShare that, community group this, church groups that – it’s charity and nothing more. It has its short-term place but medium term and beyond, it’s unstable and full of free labour. Free labour that has allowed Trussell and FareShare to grow – not for them, the employment of local people who are struggling. Instead they favour free local volunteering schemes and their employment is saved for well-paid central management structures.
All this charity and no evidence anywhere that it makes any long-term difference. In fact, medium/long term charity does nothing more than create dependency – local, regional and national dependency.
It’s the place where the porn-stars set up residency, playing charity, promoting charity, propagating charity.
Charity is a problem because it is a right-wing construct designed to keep social problems calmer. It has its roots and tentacles in the thought process of there being a deserving poor. It’s also being re-used by those in the various food-aid alliances as the BIG fundraiser/recruiter. 10 years ago, the church was struggling for their community message and there was no such mention of the BIG charities, such as Trussell or FareShare. Now, the church has a message and Trussell and FareShare have almost become household names by protecting their crap-food hunger model and often lying about the quality of the same food.
Let’s not forget 80% of hungry people turn their back on food banks, even though the food is free – a fact that would be seen as failure in any other service environment, but in the charitable food aid world it is protected, even promoted as success. Why? Well it’s simple…academics require their research base and as already noted, too many charities are wedded to the fundraising that hunger now brings them – it has become too big a gravy train to derail.
PORN-STARS as ENFORCERS:
Recently, we learnt a young boy lost his sight and hearing because of his diet of pringles, sausages, white bread etc = All ultra-processed food and all foods regularly found in food banks. However, once inside food banks, the same food is transformed, and it becomes so good the porn-star-enforcers tell hungry people the same food is ‘nutritionally balanced’
Every UK public health body and most of the media point us all (who have choices) away from contact with ultra-processed food and all those tinned meat/high sugar/crap noodle/pringle/crisp products known to kill us over time. A stance you would hope the food aid sector would re-enforce as they set themselves up to ‘feed’ the most vulnerable amongst us. Unfortunately, as the porn-star re-ENFORCERS they see things differently.
They choose to twist the public health message to suit and render food that can make a person go blind, nutritious. Here is an excerpt from the current Trussell Trust website… “people can receive a food bank parcel of three days ‘nutritionally balanced’, non-perishable food from their local food bank.”
Or compare this, taken from a Harvard study… “Ultra-processed foods often have fewer nutrients than unprocessed foods, and they contain higher amounts of sugar, salt, saturated fat, and food additives, all of which are associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases.”
Here we have – Trussell saying their food is nutritious and instruct their food banks to tell vulnerable people the same. Whilst a world-renowned research body says exactly the opposite. As you ponder your truth about who is right here, take another look at the Tesco food bank collection image we included earlier – all ultra-processed crap food. And if you think it is nutritious – post your arguments against what we are claiming here. If, however, you, like us, think the food is nothing more than crap, do some or all of the following.
Stop donating ultra-processed food to food banks – it is making the problem worse.
Get closer to the issues and locally think about improving your local food bank approach.
Write to your MP about the good food change that needs to happen.
Work with bodies like us to create larger scale change – otherwise;
The food-poverty-porn-star-enforcers, brazen in their deceit of a key public health messages, will continue uninterrupted and most hungry people will remain hungry.
INDIGNANT PORN-STARS actors:
Everything we do or write about we can qualify – we get our facts right. If we comment, we comment using well researched facts and the basis of our own practice. However, when our comments venture close to a porn-star or two, they become the most indignant bunch, sat high on some sort of moral cloud they have no right to sit on, because frankly, the facts are never on their side.
We never discuss anything outside of hunger and good food. We are not generalists like so many of the porn-stars and of course we are a professional food organisation. We have an expertise in food standards and food production. Yet the indignant bunch, most of whom have no food expertise whatsoever, believe they know better, based on what exactly? Nothing but their indignance. And all the time people are starving.
These affronted porn-star-actors often present themselves as radical campaigners, often socialist in their politic. Yet their provision of crap food is a further austerity measure pushed out onto vulnerable people. This means, similar to charity, it is right-wing in construct. Not that this matters, to any of the faux lefties. As porn-star-actors they love their walk-on actor parts, sitting around discussing/writing about the poverty they have never experienced, or dreaming up condescending terms like experts by experience. For them, their motives are sound, because they mean well and should be thanked for their ‘meaning’ – it is emotive/disingenuous claptrap. If the work is good, then fine get on with it. But if the work knowingly keeps people hungry by feeding people crap food, it is right-wing and has no place in any service delivering social justice, and neither does anyone who favours supporting it.
PORN-STARS in ALLIANCE:
Let’s focus on the End Hunger Alliance and to do so, take look at the membership in the image below.
It is a body that is never publicly critical of the crap food Trussell Trust pushes out or Fareshare’s food distribution. This Alliance body also sanctions the push out of the ‘Pantry’ model. A model no more than food bank food being sold to people under the pretence that they are part of some sort of community membership – when it is nothing more than a 2nd class, crap-food scam allowing Fareshare to sell on the random-crap-food it has be given for free.
Now take a look at the strapline that End Hunger operates behind…Everybody should have access to good food etc – the good food, and the good food process they are talking up as ‘good’ is captured in the earlier images. What is striking, is that every organisation named below have clearly changed their opinions on what constitutes good food and in doing so – creating a two-tier food system, how convenient!
Food bank food and the stuff Fareshare distributes is not good food, far from it. It is food almost entirely made up of random, ultra-processed cast offs. Often end of date, and full of bread and pastries. Yet all of those listed below define this as good food. And they only do so, because they are happy to facilitate this two-tier food system. One we all benefit from and the other for a food-underclass underpinned by their distorted ‘good’ food alternative. It is intended to kid hungry people that crap food is good for them. It is a method to keep End Hunger in the game which for them, seemingly matters more than tackling hunger. Remember, they all need to drink the milk from the cow that is Fareshare – it is THE main supplier of the crap food they all need in order for there to be a story to tell. Never would this group bite off the hand that literally feeds them.
What is most concerning is bodies such as Sustain, Food Ethics Council and the Food Foundation have signed up to this lie – it is a travesty, but they know that. Their hypocrisy is stark, and all the time people are starving. To repeat, 80% of everyone hungry steers clear of this charity scam because the food is so poor and the stigma too great. Yet this porn-star alliance carries on disregarding hungry people by disregarding their health, disregarding their dignity and perpetuating the lie that they are distributing nutritionally-balanced food.
The term apostate comes to mind.
PORN-STARS and their response to FOOD-AID-STANDARDS:
They’re a funny crowd these porn-stars. There to support every call their porn-star mates make or if they can, align themselves something that catches a PR gaze. However, if something is suggested, from outside of their porn-star clique the indignant silence begins.
A few months ago, we put a call out for the creation of food standards for food aid. You know the type of food standards that protect us all, who already have food choice, but do nothing for those who are hungry. We thought this was a no brainer. A step towards hungry people being fed well. A step towards the protection of the health of those most vulnerable and the opportunity for the food aid sector to self-regulate their food offer. Regulations no more difficult than this:
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 help to facilitate this.
Refrigeration should always be available and;
Every food aid outlet should be subject to food hygiene registration and checks, just like every other food entity.
Then came the response = almost total silence, except for one tweet, weeks later, from Sustain, saying ‘this looks interesting’. So, let’s make a comparison…just a few weeks ago, Prue Leith goes live with her hospital food campaign and who are right there in total support? Sustain of course. They tweet immediately and in one day, produce 10 tweets/retweets in support. Sustain the campaigner for good food, whose CEO is prominent in the End Hunger Alliance, allows her organisation to get right behind the PR Prue Leith may bring, but when it comes to representing and improving the lot of hungry people, nothing more than..1 tweet saying ‘this looks interesting’. It is double standards and it is calculated.
PORN-STARS, BREXIT and the FUTURE:
Brexit will be the next big fundraiser for Trussell and Fareshare and all of their Alliance buddies. Already the news is creeping out about the loss of supply to foodstuffs and the likely impact on those in poverty. The deals will be done and here is a prediction, it will be even more crap food pushed down the necks of the hungry. All sanctioned by the porn-stars in the name of crisis and the story they want to tell – when a different story could have been in place.
5 years ago, we started to campaign for the food aid industry to change course and start to feed people well – introducing viable ideas and asking the food aid sector to change their working practices – simple changes too. Had it done so, food aid would be more robust and resilient to change and be in a position to push back on Brexit. But of course, the porn-stars have held firm in their defence of the crap food system and what will transpire, is much more of the same or worse still, no food at all. And as always, they will point the finger at Government and never ever consider they have any responsibility.
Brexit is at the door of the Tories, but if hunger increases because of it – the food-poverty-porn-stars will have played a major part.
One last Brexit thought: There could be one major benefit of a no-deal-type-Brexit…organisations like FareShare will likely struggle with supply and with it, the donations into the Trussell model. Now that would be interesting, because then, we may see the food-aid-alliance-porn-stars change their tact and be forced to think about a new food model. If it happens, we bet the same porn-star-Alliance who have created the current food-aid mess, will want to be trusted with the design of what comes next – which is akin to asking the Tories to redesign the benefits system.
In the recent past, we have spoken at 2 conferences. One full of food policy academics, the second, mostly public health workers, some of whom were in very senior positions. We presented much of what is written here and what stood out – not one dissenting voice and plenty of support. Hundreds of people in attendance, not one dissenting voice. So how come nothing changes? How come public health stays silent about crap food and how come only a handful of academics ever criticise Trussell Trust and FareShare. Maybe this is the answer. In one of the conferences, a woman who was managing a food aid project in London said privately, ‘we all agree with you, but your message is ‘cheeky’ and we don’t want to upset Trussell Trust because what else can we do”? What was being said was – we agree with the truth, but the truth when it is spoken, is cheeky and we will side with the lie, because the lie keeps us in the food aid gang.
For some reading this, our approach may seem confrontational or could possible offend. As we have said before, if you are offended ask yourself why? After all, all we want is to feed hungry people good food when it is possible to do so. And consider this. In dealing with many of the indignant-apostate-porn-stars highlighted above, we have throughout reached out, provided solutions to the hunger issues millions face. We are not in it for the research, the charity or the sanctimonious lines about ‘putting ourselves out of business.’ We are in it to feed people well at the point they need food = TODAY. We are good food practitioners, not think-pieces. We sit on the frontline of hunger and see the damage no/or crap food does to people and then how different people become when they are fed well/treated with respect. Yet, the disdain shown by those porn-stars who do nothing but research the same old stuff or produce more charity-how-to guides, is incredible. This group never puts a viable/sustainable idea on the table, other than to blame the Government or call for more charity. This is why they are, and will remain…
I’ve always had an interest in social justice – and three years ago I began my political studies at Exeter University. While this experience taught me so much – I quickly realised I was far from the likeminded socialists I had always surrounded myself with. Dorothy wasn’t in Kansas anymore, and I can safely say I’ve had my fair share of face offs with others who seem ignorant to the world and struggle around them. My experience with university not only gave me a fair few debate induced headaches, it also provided me with an insight into the lack of understanding so many have of the hardship of the working class.
Having freshly graduated in the summer of this year I found myself wondering where I could go in the world of employment, and though I wasn’t sure what avenue I wanted to explore, I knew I wanted to be part of something that was really making a difference to people’s lives.
Since then my passion for the politics of the many has only been strengthened, and it is this that I hope to bring with vigour to the Can Cook team. Whilst I was aware of the problem of poverty across Britain, as well as some of Can Cook’s own initiatives to help curb it in Liverpool and North Wales, I have been shocked to have been given such an eye-opener of the failure of those at the forefront of the conversation around food-aid. Namely the large organisations who have somehow managed to promote and normalise a ‘get it ate’ approach to food supply – dehumanising the poor and not allowing for any choice of good nutritious food. This is what has attracted me to joining the Can Cook team, treating those in need with dignity, and giving them the same freedom that we have when it comes to food.
This week I have had a glimpse into the real impact the Can Cook team can make to the lives of the people they work with. I have had the opportunity to meet people facing such hardships, previously homeless families across North Wales in need of a lifeline. Whilst it was difficult to see the real, human extent of deprivation in our nation – I quickly realised that Can Cook is a means of offering some hope in what can only be conceived as such tough circumstances, circumstances that I’m sure any of us would struggle to cope with. Speaking to families from this region we were able to gage their interest in the possible creation of a food-truck style food hub, that could deliver fresh nutritious meals to families in the area. This initiative, alongside others Can Cook have in the works, are something I can’t wait to be a part of devising and implementing.
As well as looking at potential new projects I also visited the Positivitree group that Can Cook have been in partnership with. Through this initiative we were able to offer fresh meals to families and carers of seriously ill children based at Alder Hey, parents who simply don’t have the time to consider their own wellbeing.
Being exposed to the array of projects Can Cook have been and continue to be a part of, has shown the scope of people’s lives they have touched and continue to support. It has shown me not only their dedication to fighting food poverty in the region, but also their dedication to ensuring everybody in need of nutritious food, should and can be catered for. They’re not asking the world, quite the opposite. As one of the richest countries in the world, Can Cook are still having to fight for a basic human right; one that we should all be entitled to.
Whilst it shouldn’t be necessary, it is a fight that I cannot wait to get stuck into. Thank you to all the team for being so welcoming and a special thank you to Robbie and Laura for believing in me enough to have given me the opportunity.
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.
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,
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.
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.
We sit within the third sector. We do so because for 11 years we have worked tirelessly to offer good food solutions in deprived areas. In 11 years we have taught over 14,000 people to cook, delivered fresh food services into schools, nurseries and care homes and, importantly in the context of this blog, we have given away 35,000 free, fresh meals to people going hungry in 2017. This is all frontline stuff. Working with children, parents, grandparents, in short; everyone in and working around food poverty.
It is the work that has given us vast experience into people’s eating habits and choices. It is the work that drives our good food model, it is also the work that drives our campaigning. We have campaigned for years to stop the poor food model that is currently the only offer available to most in food poverty. In the first couple of years, we campaigned quietly – getting people around tables, agreeing, disagreeing, producing position papers, arranging conferences all in the hope that we would agree that good food was a better option for hungry people. At the time everyone who attended the conferences (165 organisations) agreed (including the Trussell/ Fareshare reps), but when it came to doing something about it, they all backed off. 3 years on and our campaigning has become that much more targeted, naming organisations who frankly have only their own agenda, trying to get an alternative dialogue going against to the poor food dialogue that dominates the food poverty agenda right across England and Wales. We see campaigning as the cornerstone of all that we do. As campaigners it is so important to tell the truth as we see it, as we have researched it, as we have worked it. Truth that is based on fact and drawn from feeding thousands of people who are both hungry and in need of support. Our campaigns therefore are about representation; representing those who are stuck in austerity with too few options to take them anywhere else. Last week this role to represent took on real focus; a focus that initially generated anger, a focus that gave us further impetus to push harder against those who are hell-bent on making sure that we will always have a food aid system that they can push their poor food into – food that is cast off by a system that has no commercial use for it, food that is so random and processed that skilled chefs could not dig out a series of good meals from it. Ours is not to chirp from the side-lines, criticising. Our campaigning is about facts and the negative impact of poor food on poorer people. Our campaigning is about already having a sustainable solution to food poverty; a solution that positively brings institutions together and only supplies good food to the people who need it.
Anyway, scene set, now onto what made us angry and onto what should make everyone angry if your aim is social justice for those who are blighted by the stress of hunger.
Food poverty is a very emotive subject full of faith, hope, charity and the acts of volunteers who work so hard to make a difference. Because of this you should never criticise the efforts of those involved…after all, lives are being saved and people have found purpose in their volunteering activities – activities that have been the savour of many a church/community group or even big charity. We note this upfront as not to denigrate the efforts of volunteers who are working hard (we know of lots who do) but to lay bare the complexity now in-built into the whole food poverty movement. Careers depend on it, community groups are thriving because of it and all manner of others are spending their time trying to get in on the act. It is activity that is bound together by the regular and sweeping statements from all the actors and all the players involved; statements such as ‘we should not have to be here, we are here to stop food poverty, put ourselves out of business, that’s the plan.’ It’s a decent plan to have under the circumstances. However, the evidence of the last 8 years or so points in a different direction? We have seen poor waste food being recycled as if it was good, rolling out on a larger scale, feeding people badly as it goes along. Then last week, maybe the final nail in the coffin of the ‘we should not have to be here plan’, came the announcement that Trussell Trust and Fareshare have struck a £20m deal to expand their poor food models to anywhere that will take them.
Three years ago, we raised the topic of food poverty becoming institutionalised in the UK with the Trussell Trust becoming the key actor in an ‘institutionalised-plan’. At the time, our thinking was swayed after hearing the former CEO of Trussell declare that he wanted to see the organisation become the ‘McDonalds-of-food-poverty’. Around the same time, the CEO of Fareshare was saying something quite different in front of public audiences. His position was ‘Fareshare was not a food poverty organisation but a food waste organisation’. At first glance there is something of a conflict going on within the two statements with no immediate match up. But then take a step back and dig a little deeper – what you’ll find is a meeting of organisational minds. One wanted growth and needed more supply. The other also wanted growth and needed somewhere to deposit all of its food waste – a good marriage all of a sudden – more of this later.
Canada and the USA have been playing this food waste for poor people game for decades with mountains of proof that it does not work and lets the state off in its responsibility to care for people. It is a deeply flawed model. A model Fareshare and Trussell have followed with real purpose, culminating last week in announcing their news to partner with Walmart to maximise their growth plans. Walmart – the very company known to exploit their employees, many of whom are paid so poorly that they too rely on food handouts. The company that has done more than most to institutionalise food poverty in the USA. It’s immoral, but hey – clearly to some this is just business as usual, so why does this really matter?
It matters because the model is proven to keep people in poverty and it matters because it is proven that such models become little more than an industrial supply chain that pushes its waste and costs onto others, pretending to do otherwise. And it matters because all this is ably abetted by charity.
The intellectual Cornel West once said “Justice is what love looks like in public.” To achieve love in a food context surely it is about health and choice. Yet the exact opposite is on offer by the Trussell and Fareshare. So how can anyone be okay with randomised, mostly unhealthy, food as the only offer to people who are already having their self worth stripped by an evil benefits system or crap pay for a hard days work? Of course, there is an argument that at least some of the food they supply is fine for use and whilst there is lots of waste that is equally fine because at least the some food will feed some people. Well, sorry the argument doesn’t stack up. To back up this point lets inform you, as the reader, of what we found after paying for the Fareshare service for 6 months.
We have a full audit of all foods delivered to us. Of the foodstuff delivered, the parcel
ranged from kinder eggs and chocolate/biscuit items of all kinds (that we refused but they still turned up), loads of bread items onto useful items such as prawns and gammon joints that we could use because we are food producer. But here are the stark figures, for every delivery we received over the period we worked with Fareshare, the average value of the items delivered was £102.21 but the average waste cost (food we could not use and we needed to dispose of) was £62.40. Remember that we have a team of trained chefs on staff, with a combined kitchen experience of over 100 years between them. Yet we still had to dispose of 60% of all goods delivered. We can only estimate from our experience how much food the average Fareshare recipient must waste each and every time they receive their random delivery as most don’t have chefs. Fareshare brands itself as a charity having the objectives of ‘fighting hunger and food waste’, but figures say they are mostly passing that waste on to community centres or to be wasted by households going hungry, therefore accomplishing neither of its aforementioned objectives – so what have Walmart bought into and why?
As already noted, it’s a North American model and across the Atlantic there is real expertise in these poor-food-corporate-buy-in-approaches.
One expert who set up the STOP in Canada (look it up if you don’t know it) said last week…
“Let’s not conflate a food waste strategy with a poverty reduction strategy. It’s destructive to do so. Are we saying the poor among us are only worthy of the castoffs of the industrial food system – the majority of which is unhealthy food, laden with fat, sugar and salt which increases the risk of diet related diseases? There is no question we can and must do better than this as a society.”
Wise words. Words worthy of major consideration, unless you are wanting to get as close as you can to the food industrial complex, unless your intentions are about growth over poverty; unless you are Trussell or Fareshare.
10 days ago, we wrote a blog about changing the story of food poverty, ending that blog with its not too late to change – if the intention was to create a good food system for people who are hungry. Last week changed everything. Last week’s Walmart love-in said to everyone who cares about these matters – food poverty in the UK will become as it is in North America. A service done at pace and all on the back of volunteers, except for those jobs in the management tiers of Fareshare/Trussell, who of course are needed to co-ordinate the logistics of this deeply flawed and deeply immoral model.
A good company is measured not by how it behaves in public when things are going good but how it behaves when things are not so good, and they are in the glare of scrutiny. So here is our experience of both organisations about things that have not gone well.
After carrying our own practice-based research (partly noted above) into their operational models, we approached them both, sometimes meeting with management teams raising our concerns about their poor food models, providing strong evidence. In response, both steadfastly defended their poor food model (offering the most bizarre reasons for their offer of poor food), both reacted with disdain, and this is important, simply ignored all feedback. Now what is interesting here is that we have a food expertise that both Fareshare and Trussell don’t have, we are a food organisation first, with a significant track record in feeding people well in deprived areas. They cared not one bit. For them it was all about logistics and the movement of as much poor food as they could muster. This paragraph is worth noting because it lets you into the psyche of the charities in play here. For them, it’s always been about growth over product and there is no evidence to declare anything to the contrary.
There is ongoing campaign End Hunger that has gathered all of the national players around one table looking to create a model that, as the title suggests, ends hunger. Around that table Trussel and Fareshare sit as the proud supply chain of most of the infrastructure of poor food that gives the campaign the oxygen to exist. It is a campaign that has made some decent recommendations about policy change and has routes to government that can influence. There is no doubt that some around the table care. Now though, the dynamics of that table have changed and there is a big new corporate elephant in the room. An elephant so big that it could distort the whole picture quickly and forever. Moreover, if we look across again to North America, this elephant will do all it can to foist its poor-food options so deep that in just a few years’ time it will be impossible to extract it even if there was a want to do so. Let’s be clear here, if anyone thinks Walmart are going to invest £20million without influence they should not be anywhere near any sort of decision making.
So rounding all this up, and back to the marriage of Trussell and Fareshare, and not forgetting the role of the wider third sector:-
We believe there was unrest in the staff camps of Trussell and Farshare about the Walmart deal, but it still went ahead. In doing the deal, Trussel and Fareshare have declared their hand. Walmart are their partners and they are wedded to growth and poor-food just as their contemporaries working with Walmart are doing are across the Atlantic. Now they may have sold this to their UK food poverty partners (End Hunger and others) as this is a good deal for all involved. After all, more food banks, more poor food, more volunteers, what’s there not to like? We can imagine them saying…’Yes there is going to be a bit of noise about Walmart, but that will die down and then let’s think about all those poor people we can help and those new initiatives we can all create off the back of the big new supply chain of poor food.’ If this, or something like this, has/is being said and this sort of thing is allowed, bought into if you like, then everyone in the supply chain of this Walmart deal will be complicit and no amount of reworking or dressing this up will suffice. Get into bed with Walmart and you will be part of institutionalising food poverty in the UK – no doubt, no further discussion. Take a quick look at twitter to read how the complicity has started with some already starting to distort the argument by claiming food aid has always been institutionalised and what happened last week is merely part of what is already in place. It is an outrageous claim, unless of course you believe in the deal.
To finish, the third sector should seek to hold and operate to the highest standards, after all the safeguard is the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people. Given the involvement of Walmart and how both Fareshare and Trussell trust have done everything they can to spread their poor food model nationwide – it is fair that those standards have been compromised. Trying to remain somewhat fair, if the £20m the two organisations have now secured is used to;-
1. Make sure people have access to good fresh food by choice
2. Make sure no waste is passed on to community groups at their cost. Taking in only the food that can be used, leaving ASDA with costs of the rest and holding them to account and;
3. Make sure that volunteers get jobs, rather than just create more volunteer roles to roll out more food banks or distribution units
Then maybe, just maybe, there will be some good reason for this deal. But our experience of working with and watching Trussell and Fareshare operate is that the opposite will roll out – lets all wait and see eh?
It was useful to see IFAN stand their ground and raise their concerns. Now the door is open for others to follow. More importantly, it will be very interesting to see who over time buys in with the offer of some of the benefits of the £20m. In the long run, if many of the current food poverty entities do, the integrity of the sector will be threatened and the big losers will be the people hungry and still forced to take poor food handouts.
As we said in our last blog, there are already options and stronger routes to stopping hunger, let’s see what happens next?
The story goes; no matter the quality – food-aid food is better than no food at all. A story told by those who will never have to eat it.
In the 7 or so years since the Conservative/Lib Dem took hold of the governmental reigns and decided that it was fair to make working class people pay for the wilful acts of bankers, two storylines have dominated the UK social policy landscape. The first is austerity. The second is poverty.
The mind that creates austerity and sells it as fair is an evil mind, and the collective minds that agree and create policy and foist it upon millions of people are both callous and evil in equal measure.
The Conservative right, who are now the dominant political force, care not for suffering or the plight of others, their interests will always lay elsewhere protecting neo-liberal/ capitalist, small government, low taxation ways – the place evil-like austerity is dreamed up.
Back in the 18th century, Thomas Malthus and Joseph Townsend (both clerics) said ‘It is only hunger which can spur and goad them onto labour.’ Disinterred, precarity and desperation are recast as the necessary incentives to encourage the poor to work harder¹. A century later and this was the thinking of George Osbourne, Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith when they, and others, agreed to slash benefits and push people desperately into low-paid or no-paid jobs and towards and into hunger. It was a story of bankers bankrupting a nation recast as working class scroungers and skivers – lazy benefit cheats that need to be forced to work like the rest of us – it’s been a story well told.
Alongside, the second storyline has been concurrent and a story equally well told. It’s one of poverty and in particular food poverty and how millions of people are relying on food handouts without which they would never cope. The difference here though is that the story is not pushed by Government but by the charity/third sector. It is a story so well told that the food poverty response led by big charities is now almost inseparable from the problem although the story told by those same charities is somewhat different, claiming they are indeed feeding people as well as can be expected, after what else would they say? They get away with this largely because of the desperation of those who are hungry and because often working-class people are regarded as culturally unsophisticated and parochial in their concerns. They are assumed too preoccupied with everything being working class entails to think beyond where their next crispy pancake is coming from.²
And it is those assumptions in part that drive the charity food aid storyline.
After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.³ They capture our imagination and inspire and galvanise us to act.⁴ As both the government/third sector stories are being played out, it’s all about telling the same story over and over again and blocking out any objection in order to hold onto a moral high ground they both require for their stories to hold true.
Interestingly, both stories are politically/socially right-wing; believing they know best, pretending they have people’s best interests to heart and as much as they can, stopping/ignoring any counter argument. You have got to ask, as you watch those who hold the influence in the third sector food poverty debate, whether they recognise the hypocrisy of this element of their work; pressing the Government for policy change by claiming all that they do but never being able to accommodate any alternative discussion about the poor-food-for-poor-people model they hold so dear. A model that amounts to nothing more than ‘nutritional-austerity’.
Last week, an article appeared online and was retweeted widely by the food aid fraternity and academics alike. One paragraph was quite telling, it read;
‘People affected by food poverty face severe threats to their health and wellbeing. As well as stress, depression and anxiety that can result from not having enough money to feed their families, people experiencing food poverty also face a higher risk of obesity, because the only foods they can afford tend to be cheap, sugary, processed and fattening.’ ₅
It’s a paragraph that tells readers that a problem those with no or low incomes face is dealing with a life-threatening condition because of the food that they eat. Yet it is the very same food that the food aid model pushes out as its only offer. And 8 years on from when the current food aid food parcel was created, it remains its only offer – but sadly the story/claims are to the contrary.
In this blog space, as we write to raise these issues, we get academics contacting us asking for the evidence about why the food bank parcel is damaging to people’s health or cannot be eaten due to its poor processed quality. Our response starts with…how about the last 15 years of public health studies that have declared ultra-processed food wholly damaging to people’s health – the very same food that is in a food bank parcel. What we get back is silence – is it simply intelligent people unable make the connection? We don’t think so.
It is more likely that academics have become too close to organisations like Trussell (who hold a lot of the food poverty data) and need them for their research support to propagate their own stories.
It is also apparent that there are a group of Northern based academics who have written books and numerous papers on the subject, discussing every topic in detail but not once ever (to our knowledge) discussing the topic of poor-food-for-poor-people. The closest reference we have found (whilst hardly definitive), does indicate some sort of ‘progress’…
‘It’s going to be essential that our thinking is broad and ambitious and that it challenges contemporary minimalist tendencies in both understanding and responding to poverty and hunger. In particular, conceptualisations of the problem of food insecurity of not only dietary intake, but also the experience of acquiring food and the sustainability of those acquisition sources in the future.’₆
With the wealth of research/information available about crap food and the serious health problems it causes, it is fair to ask the question…why have most academics, and certainly those in the North of England chosen to avoid the subject? The question is important, because until those who can raise/write about the issue, the poor-food storyline will continue, promoted by influential storytellers who have so far proven themselves wedded to feeding people badly.
Creating a New Storyline
The need for a new story to be told that pushes back austerity is now being taken up by the Labour Party and with luck we may see a Labour Government soon. However, changing the damage austerity has done will take a parliament or two, so poverty will be with us at the level it is for maybe the next decade. It is therefore massively important that the second storyline of poverty, and in particular food poverty, being all the fault of this Government, undergoes a change. A change that is honest about the problem and honest about the solutions to the problem, and here we are talking about the problem being poor food being the only option available – it’s not – but the storyline is so wedded to the survival of certain charities that any change is going to be oh so difficult to achieve.
A sting of facts, however well attested, have no power in correcting or dislodging a powerful story. The only response it is likely to provoke is indignation: people often deny facts that clash with the narrative ‘truth’ established in their own minds. It’s not enough to challenge an old narrative no matter how discredited it may be. Change only happens when you replace it with another. ₇
We naively thought that by gathering the facts about how poor the quality food bank produce is, and how damaging it is to people’s heath, that politicians and decision makers would sit up and take notice. In fact, 4 years ago when we presented this as a problem to food banks and Trussell et al, together with a solution or two, we believed they would want to take notice too. Instead, the politicians all said they wanted/want rid of food banks and they knew/know the food is poor quality but hope for big policy change and as for Trussell et al; in short they took/take no notice – 4 years on, the same problem exists and hungry people remain poorly fed because of the decisions of those in government and the third sector.
So how does the story change? There are a number of possible storylines.
Remain true to the current story and watch food poverty/ food banks become the feature they are in North America – here forever with the state grateful for the work they do – easing the pressure of real policy change. Or, start a new story of a third sector working together with the intelligence it has to create good-food-banks and a wider good-food-movement, feeding people well and still pressuring Government for change.
The solutions are here already and what a story it would be for the UK to be the first country to roll out a good food poverty model. We remain confused why others in the food poverty industry do not want this story to take hold and we remain frustrated also that they choose to ignore good food options and hold onto feeding people food they would never choose to eat themselves.
Robert Egger, American food campaigner and entrepreneur, has two pertinent quotes that are relevant to the ongoing roll out of food poverty services here in the UK.
“Too often, charity is about the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver.” And; “Pity isn’t a plan.”
At Can Cook we passionately believe in the need for charity, it helps people out of immediate risk and it can, an often does, fill gaps mobilising local people to generate local responses. Charity has the ability to move much quicker than more established statutory services and can therefore stem a local problem quicker. It is, however, only ever meant to be a temporary measure, filling in those short-term gaps, alerting others who can take on the bigger challenge of solving the problem.
Charity and food poverty is a good case study. In the UK, the charity response to food poverty was strong, putting a service in place as the public sector struggled to cope. Setting up food banks in the case of the Trussell Trust or producing reports such as those published by Oxfam – it was all activity that laid the foundations for the food poverty movement we have now. It has created a movement that parts of the UK the public has bought into via donations of all sorts and it has done so via a frenzy of activity and emotion; highlighting struggle, lobbying those with influence, and all the time looking to secure more resources to respond to increased demand – this is classic charity but classic charitable models have real limitations and those limitations ultimately restrict the value and scope of the response as the problem gets worse or as is the case the Government ignores the problem altogether.
Moreover, charity cannot really campaign; it can object and subtly lobby, but start to cast influence and step too far into a political campaigning role and the Government can step in with threats of closure. Charity is also restricted by the donations it receives either from a public appeal it may administer or directly from a grants system it will apply to for whatever project it has in mind. It means that charity becomes quickly boxed in as the problem gets worse, needing more resources but finding those resources are finite and increasingly competitive, needing to say more but being careful not to say too much. It becomes a revolving door of lots of projects all wanting to do similar things, dreaming up the next new idea to keep potential funders happy, hardly ever joined up (because of competition) and ultimately leading to what we have now regarding food poverty here in the UK – thousands of little projects, all well intentioned, relying on volunteers and recycled (mostly processed) food, digging in for the long haul. It is unsustainable, it tires good people out and whilst it generates local services and awareness amongst those who (it could be argued) would support poverty initiatives anyway – it’s never able to move the problem into the mainstream of society and therefore will never offer a solution to the problem.
Right now, the food poverty problem is a charity problem. As a backdrop to services too much of the charitable activity is about the redemption of the giver and contains a strong thread of pity being part of the plan. Having generated lots of activity and local mini-projects, after roughly 8 years of concerted effort; still using the same methods of delivery and mostly relying on volunteers to deliver some sort of change – the model is tired and in need of a complete overhaul. But will those with a vested interest in the status quo be brave enough or will they cling onto what they have? It is likely the same-old will prevail. The current model is sustainable because its low cost (free food, free labour) and the alternative require new thinking and a shift of resources and that’s all about change. Let’s hope some are brave enough; the Feeding Britain initiative appears to be ready to break the mould and time will tell if it is able to do so.
We hope to see if the food poverty movement can offer solutions that are about good food, are about job chances and are able, through local enterprise, to generate solutions that can financially sustain themselves – it can be done but we need to be quick.