If you read this and think we are criticising you because, for example, you work hard at a food bank, you are wrong. For us, it’s all about the food and making sure people get fed well. Importantly if you work for a food bank and/or want to help hungry people we would hope its about the food for you too.
We have worked/researched for over 5 years to overcome the poor-food-for-poor-people approach of food aid in the UK. Every week, we get emails and various other contacts claiming that food aid has to use processed tinned food because…with a whole host of reasons listed.
So, let’s unpick those reasons. And to start, let’s get every reader focused:
EVERY HUNGRY PERSON DESERVES THE BEST FOOD POSSIBLE AND PROVIDING GOOD-FOOD-AID IS POSSIBLE = FACT.
Here are the headlines of some of the work we have undertaken.
We know over 50% of food banks parcels go uneaten or unused because they are random items that don’t work as meals. As a quick test – take a food parcel home and cook it for yourself and let us know your results?
We know over 60% of surplus food provided by organisations like Fareshare is never used because it is again random, end of date or processed. This means it’s being thrown away by centres and others who are paying for the service.
We know most food donated to food banks is done randomly and so, random food in means random food out. If most people can’t cook (which is the claim by a lot of food banks) what is the point of random food when all it presents is a difficult ‘ready steady cook’ exercise?
Imagine the difference that could be made if the food was not random…moving on:
We know that when people are hungry they make bad decisions and likely to stay in their crisis. If they eat well, they make better decisions and are more likely to move on. If you disagree with this, please take the time to fast and then feed yourself for a week or longer on a random food aid parcel and see how you get on with your decision making. This is important because people are being expected to stop their crisis eating only very poor-processed-food – it just doesn’t add up.
We know that there are food banks all over the country stuck with stock of food they cannot use because it has been randomly donated and foodbanks that are always in need of other foods and goods that are donated less or not at all. Wouldn’t it be much better if only the food needed was donated – it can be done.
The above sets the context, now let’s start taking about those structural issues – and as we do, imagine creating a good-food-aid system – the best in the world if you like – why wouldn’t anyone want to be part of that and all the time making sure hungry people stay healthy?
Here are 10 issues to get us started:
We can’t provide fresh food and only supply
We don’t have refrigeration.
Ask the Trussell Trust to purchase one for you (£20m from ASDA) or if you are an independent food bank, fundraise £120 (or less) to purchase one. Start by wanting to offer good food and the rest will follow.
We rely on volunteers and they don’t have the skills to handle fresh food.
Volunteers can be easily/cheaply trained in food hygiene (back to the £20m ASDA fund again or local funds). Surely every volunteer who could would want to train and learn new skills and every food bank offer to training as part of their development?
We don’t have the space to store fresh food.
It’s all about priorities here. There is space for processed food but not for fresh food – why? It’s a simple change.
Fresh food is too expensive for people to donate.
If this were true then the whole food aid system does not add up because people are donating more expensive items now? People will donate whatever food they think people need – educate the donor.
You can’t tell people what to donate it will put them off donating.
Linked to 4. People are already told what food banks need and they donate and also food banks run appeals for particular items – so if it works, it works – educate the donor.
People don’t know how to cook fresh food and prefer processed food to fresh.
Regarding cooking: This is mostly right but imagine if the food aid parcel was not random and contained items that could be cooked simply with very easy to follow recipes – we have done this work and it’s a simple change. Regarding fresh food: We’ve never met anyone who has turned down fresh good meals and take random processed tins instead (but still the claim is made)
People don’t have an electricity or gas supply.
The claim often is that most people don’t have utilities so can’t cook -so we give them poor food to eat cold. Let’s unpick this, it’s not true that most don’t have utilities, some don’t, most do. So is the food aid service really designed to cater for the few? Also, 10 years on cold processed food is the best that can be offered? Well we know it isn’t and we have developed fresh food options that only require a kettle or a microwave and almost everyone regardless of their struggle can get access to either. Design/deliver the service for the many and the few and people lives will change for the better.
Supermarkets can’t store donated fresh food for food banks to collect.
Supermarkets can do whatever they want. They have the resources and if it makes sense to them, they will do it. If they can put a trolley at the front of the store why not a tall fridge. It’s all about the service they are asked to provide.
We need chiller vans to collect fresh food from supermarkets.
Again, most big supermarket chains have home delivery chiller vans – why can’t a fresh food bank run be added. Remember the current delivery/collection system has been planned so why would there be a problem adapting?
Fresh food is heavier than processed food and people can’t carry it.
The best for last – Yes this was a reason given to us by a senior Trussell Trust representative and yes they did say vegetables were heavier than tins so fresh food was not an option.
Educate the donor – whoever they are:
Most of the changes we advocate rely on a food aid system that treats every donor as an adult and is the result of negotiation that has every hungry person in mind. And most of the problems are caused by the random the food supply that Fareshare and Trussell Trust say is the only one possible to maintain their services. This is not the case.
Imagine if every shopper and every supermarket was educated on the food that was necessary to feed people well without waste. We are sure they would welcome the information and adjust accordingly (supermarkets might not because they have other motives, but it should always be part of the negotiation with them).
With the information, over time people will donate accordingly and if they don’t want to join a good-food-supply-chain (supermarkets etc) they should not be allowed into the food aid system. Any compromise here then it’s a service about the service provider and not the hungry person.
We have a full plan on how to:
Educate the donor
How to provide good fresh food at scale and safety
How to create a food aid parcel that everyone can cook or use
How each parcel can contain fresh meals
We have tried to share this information with the Trussell Trust and they have no interest, claiming good food is not part of their food poverty approach. Therefore, the poor-food-for-poor-people continues and frankly any defence of that model 10 years after it was introduced has no credibility. If you care about people’s welfare first – why would you not want to provide a good-food-aid- service because as we have briefly set out above, the good-food alternative is available.