We don’t believe processed food or ingredients with artificial additives are good for our bodies, so we choose not to use them in our food

Laura McCumiskey

We get asked lots of questions every day about the work we do and why in 2016, in one of the world’s richest countries people are going hungry. Here, Can Cook’s Development Manager, Laura McCumiskey talks to Jade Wright about food poverty and the reasons behind the Share Your Lunch campaign.

Jade (JW): Why have you launched this Share Your Lunch Campaign?

Laura (LM): Over the past 12 months, over 1 million people in the UK accessed a food bank, meaning that they had no other means of feeding themselves.  Around 60,000 of these people were on Merseyside. The majority of these people received a parcel of non-perishable, ultra processsed foods – some supplemented with fruit and vegetables. However, food poverty has now reached a chronic level, with families not eating for a day or so a week, every week for a longer period of time. We want to be able to provide these people with good quality, fresh meals that help to alleviate their situation and support them out of crisis so that they’re more able to support themselves in the future. The Share Your Lunch campaign will enable us to provide food for thousands of people in food poverty in Merseyside

JW: What is Food Poverty? How would you describe and classify it?

LM: Food poverty is people not being able to access food that meets their nutritional requirements. We believe that fresh food is a basic human need for people to be able to live, grow and learn, well. So the definition of food poverty that we work to is –

‘not having access to fresh food, by choice’

JW: Why does it exist in 2016….I thought all that sort of thing in our society had long gone these days?

LM:Multiple factors contribute to food poverty. The biggest contributing factor right now is benefit sanctions, which sometimes last for months on end, leaving people with no means to live or feed themselves. People face benefit sanctions for various reasons, just being a few minutes late for an appointment can see you sanctioned for weeks on end. Other factors include, low income, unexpected bills, cuts to benefits and tax credits and sickness.

JW: What sort of people are affected and going hungry. Is it just poor or unemployed people?

LM: The majority of households accessing food banks have at least one adult in work, so it is not just unemployed people or people receiving benefits who are struggling to get by. Families living on low wages who struggle to make ends meet, people who have become sick, been made redundant, had rent increases or an unexpected utility bill. It all makes stretching finances more difficult.

“Often when people do reach out for help, they’ve already gone hungry for a day or so, have cut back at home and have reduced the quality and quantity of the food they buy to make it last through the week”

JW: What is the scale of the problem in the UK then – and is it worse in Liverpool than other cities?

LM: Food Poverty has risen every year over the past few years and is expected to get worse with further welfare reform ad the implementation of Universal Credit. The North West has been pretty hard hit, but Liverpool has particularly high levels of poverty which results in people being unable to feed themselves.

Food poverty is entrenched within some households and is often having negative implications on the health and wellbeing of individuals who are unable to access fresh food.

JW: How does food poverty, poor diet and hunger effect people physically and mentally then?

LM: Living in poverty is difficult generally, having such tight budgets, deciding which bill to pay first, choosing between gas or electric or food. Its stressful and doesn’t allow space for planning ahead for shopping or meals. Being unable to provide food for your family is distressing, and over longer periods of time, this can have a bigger impact on mental health, poorer people are at much higher risk of mental health problems.

Physically, poor diet contributes to a whole range of health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. However, processed food is often much cheaper to buy than fresh food, meaning that while hunger is on the rise, so too is obesity.

JW: There are lots of Foodbanks – don’t they take care of people in need?

LM: Food banks have done a great job of providing food for people in need over the past few years. However, the majority of foodbanks are only able to provide processed food, and as people are facing longer term crisis, it is more important than ever to provide them with fresh food that feeds them well and for long enough to enable them to support themselves out of crisis and become less reliant on emergency food.

JW: Tell us about Can Cook? Who are you, what do you do and why?

LM: We are an anti-poverty organisation based in Garston. We’ve been around for almost 10 years now, and have been researching and working on solutions to food poverty for the past 3-4 years. In our day to day business, we provide a fresh food catering service for schools, nurseries, care homes and individuals in their own homes and use our profits and contracts to create Living Wage Foundation rate jobs for local people, and to provide free, fresh food for people in food poverty and children through the school holidays.

We chose to become a fresh food caterer after various approaches from local authorities and care homes looking for somebody to supply good food. We don’t believe that processed foods and artificial ingredients have a positive impact on our bodies, so choose not to use them in our foods.

Fresh food is a very basic human need, and one that everybody is entitled to. Everybody deserves food that is good for their bodies, and to make choices about what they eat. Nobody, especially in a country as rich as ours, should be forced to eat food that is bad for them because it is the only food available to them.

JW: If I donate, where will my money go and what will it do.

LM: Each donation received enables us to provide food for people in food poverty across Merseyside. We have multiple distribution partners across Merseyside who work with a whole range of people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. We are actively expanding distribution points across the region so that everybody is able to access fresh food if they fall into crisis.

JW: How do I donate?

You can donate to us here at our kitchen (address below) or via our webpage. We’re also encouraging people hosting events to raise money for Share Your Lunch – the more creative, the better.