The Trussell Trust Report: A Missed Opportunity

If you have not read the TT report yet, here is their blog and link to the report.

Recent evidence from Canada states that food insecure adults are more vulnerable to chronic health conditions – conditions that require a good diet and care to stave off illness.

Without doubt the same applies here – hence the need to feed hungry people well, hence the need to change the current food aid system to feed people good food.

The long-awaited TT nutritional report was published last week. An opportunity for the TT to show themselves as an organisation that care about what people eat when they are hungry. Instead, it was a study/report set up to do nothing more than convince others that the current food aid parcel is nutritious and therefore ok to push onto hungry people. It was an exercise in trying to protect their poor-food model as opposed to using their now considerable resources to plot a sustainable course to feeding people well.

The headline claim is the food aid parcel is ‘nutritiously-adequate’ – REALLY! … let’s take a look at this claim and in particular the method deployed by the Academics who according to their biogs are ‘food experts’.

Upfront and clear throughout the report and the adjoining blog on the TT website written to promote it was to try to protect their existing food parcel and steer away from improving the quality of the food for hungry people. This was well supported by a particularly narrow and therefore weak methodology set up by the academics. A methodology which was about subjectivity throughout, suiting the TT purpose rather than setting out a clear case and objective look at how people need to be fed. A quick glance at the references in the report tells every reader the study was narrow and set up to prove the point that the food aid package is nutritional – which it categorically is not – more of this later.

The title of this blog is a ‘Missed Opportunity’ and here is why. The TT have the resources to change the food offer if they wish and there is the knowledge in the food aid system to deliver that change. But instead, their aim was to try and substantiate their previous claims that the parcel is nutritious. So, 10 years into using a poor-food-for-poor-people model, they set out to steadfastly defend rather than amend and when something is wrong and that is the starting point, poor work follows. It could have been so different.

The report claims a number of things and makes recommendations all shaped around protecting the parcel below – this is the parcel the report talks about…aaaaaaaaad

The authors (academics) claim this to be nutritional and also claim that the parcel above is able to feed a person adequately for up to 5/6 days. We challenge anyone to find 3 days-worth of meals in the above package so let your imagination run wild and find 5/6 days = not possible, not credible.

Put 3 meals a day together from the named products and see how you do? Also calculate for yourselves how much sugar/additives the parcel pushes into a person’s system – for a bit of assistance here a few of the ingredient lists for you to consider:

The cookies:

The Savoury Rice:rice

 

Chopped Ham with Pork:

aaaaaaaaa

Healthy eh, nutritious eh?

And each item loaded with sugar and that’s without any focus on the sugar in desserts – yet taking out bags of sugar will clearly make everything better – more of this later.

Time to unpick the analysis:

 

It’s important to note that the authors do not declare what foods they analysed – it appears to be just a random selection drawn from a lot of other random selections? This is the first food report we have read were the food discussed is omitted from the evidence trail – in fact the evidence trail of this report is incredibly thin indeed. Anyway, with no food list to refer to, here is what stands out:

 

  • In an aim to provide a ‘robust’ case… the authors chose to ignore the family, concentrating only on single people[1]. With such a gap in the method how can a claim of ‘nutritionally-adequate be applied?
  • The report claims… the parcel is nutritionally balanced if the hungry person eats everything in the parcel? We know that never happens, because and about 45% of the parcel remains uneaten as it cannot be eaten as meals. A glaring omission by the authors – strip out 45% and let’s see the analysis then?
  • The report does not… take account of dietary needs, vegetarianism etc – and the impact the parcel has on people requiring a specific diet – no analysis here at all?
  • The report overlooks… where this so-called nutrition comes from = ultra-processed foods. Foods that are known to damage a person’s health – food that should never play any part in feeding a hungry person. Of course, the claim of the authors and TT is it’s a package only for emergencies – this is nonsense and it only serves to reinforce poor food habits that no public health advice would sign up to.
  • The report overlooks…the need for fibre in a person’s diet and there is no mention of fibre anywhere in the report – an omission or deemed not relevant by the authors? Either would indicate a mistake that strips away another level of the nutritionally-adequate claim.
  • The report does not reflect… on the needs of children and how children are forced via the food bank parcel to eat ultra-processed adult foodstuffs.
  • The report claims the food items being eaten in a balanced way… without the density of eating whilst hungry for example, eating… tinned pies, followed by hot dogs, followed by another tinned meat dish – because that what people do/select when they are hungry – stuff themselves with savoury high fat salt and sugar stuff. And yes, this is what happens when people are hungry and any claim otherwise is spurious.
  • The report, and let’s use the authors own words here…says, ‘Whilst the sum of the food items in the parcels were nutritionally adequate (with the exception of sugar, salt and Vitamin D)… Here we have analysis that states a food bank parcel is high in salt, very high in sugar and lacks vitamin D = too much salt and sugar, both on the ‘killer-food’ watchlist by the way and needing vitamin D; you know the very vitamin that stops rickets, protects teeth etc – and with all this is going on and the parcel is still ‘nutritionally-adequate’ – don’t think so.
  • The report reinforces the poorest eating habits = saying its ok for the poorest people to receive the poorest food because they are poor. When what is required is food education and always options to feed hungry people the best food possible. And saving the best for last…
  • The report says it’s ok for poor people to eat in an abnormal way. A way nobody was brought up to eat in. That is to eat products over meals. Go back to the picture and what the TT and authors are saying is ‘we know the food parcel doesn’t consist of meal options – but hey, your poor so eat poor products instead. What is outrageous about this outcome is the report has been compiled by ‘food experts’ and signed off by the TT Management Team – clearly both parties think forcing people to eat products over meals is the right thing to do. And using this as a very clear and appropriate benchmark, this point alone completely removes the report as a credible piece of research.

So how has all this been dressed up to read as if there is something credible to be found?

The TT have done their usual pretending that this is another nutritional report in a series they have produced. Anyone who takes an interest in this subject knows this is the first report, pushed out because of the noise that agencies like us are making. It’s all about trying to protect their service offer and nothing in the report or the subsequent TT actions shouts ‘we are wanting to feed people well’. The food aid package remains as it is with one major change – the removal of a bag of sugar. Yes, the headline change is the removal of the bag of sugar and hungry people will now of course be much better off. You couldn’t make this up. All the resource they have put into the report and build up the TT have given it and A BAG OF SUGAR becomes the major change item.

 

The route the TT could have took was one that chose to understand and action the change needed to rectify the problem of products over meals. In this context and back to the missed opportunity stuff…the report does rightly reflect on the products not meals, however absolutely nothing is actioned –  here is the excerpt:

aaaaaaab

 

If the intention was to feed people well, this is the most important piece of the report but it was never the intention and so it did become a recommendation by the authors = No. And do the TT intend to do anything about it = No. Never mind, everything is now fine, because those poor hungry people can’t get their hands on a bag of sugar. As already noted – you couldn’t make this up.

A comment or two of the authors/their research:

Of course, we do not know what their brief was, but it is fair to expect researchers to present a robust case when expecting people to legitimately accept the finding of a report that is supposed to be about feeding people better when they are in crisis.

What is damming about the academics approach is they chose, after 10 years of poor-food-supply by the TT, to ignore the human case and simply use software to apply their bias, and it is a bias, given the human factor was ignored. Put simply, there is no reflection on how people eat or do not eat the food aid package and that is a glaring miss for people who introduce themselves as having a food expertise. They have assumed that the whole food package is eaten when that does not happen – they have analysed products over meals – when in fact they accept people eat meals over products (see above). And although they noted this as a concern, it does not appear as a headline recommendation…clearly demonstrating that it was research to protect service over people, so crisis over care. It’s a miss and such a glaring miss that it negates the whole study.

Throughout the report a number of other things stand out.

1 – The authors repetition of well-rehearsed TT lines.

2 – Poor referencing

About those well-rehearsed lines/caveats to help protect the route to change if the route is not taken. They said of the changes – “it is recommended these are not made until an analysis is conducted to determine if any changes:

  • do not significantly increase the cost of donations;
  • do not negatively impact the volume of public donations;
  • do not negatively affect stock availability;
  • Fit with clients’ constraints on food preparation (e.g. lack of utensils, refrigeration or cooking facilities);

Written as if it was the TT themselves putting up their already well-worn defence; a defence that rolls out if any perceived criticism is made. It indicates that the authors know very little about how the food aid system works or how people engage with the system as donors or use the system when hungry. We found this quite surprising given one of the authors has been working at a food bank as part of their PHD?

About the references: Take a look, it’s a reference list to suit the end result not to apply objectivity or steer towards any sort of alternative outcome – after all, the TT are the client.

To finish – here we go again… the TT seemingly happy with the report results – a report that satisfies them with the term ‘nutritionally-adequate’. No doubt the TT will push it out to their food banks as if it adds some sort of credibility to their food work. – it doesn’t.  Agreeing to the reports findings also indicates that there is no food expertise within the Trussell Trust – their skills are in franchise management, logistics and PR – yet they want to be trusted with people’s diet and wellbeing?

The food parcel is not nutritious and look into the report itself and its says so. Anything that is high in salt, very high in sugar, lacks Vitamin D and requires people to eat products over meals, is not nutritious and you don’t need to be a food expert to identify with that.

Oh, and don’t forget, the glaring error made by the authors who assumed the whole parcel gets eaten – it doesn’t, far from it.

In time, we are sure this report will be seen for what it is, a blatant attempt by the TT to justify an already discredited position of feeding people incredibly poor food. This was a chance to rectify a serious problem in the food aid system and treat people with the dignity they deserve. The TT have the resources to stop the problem but they chose not to and those close to the problem know why.

Now the report is published, we are left with a food bank service that is little more than a game of food-Russian-roulette for hungry people = containing pot luck products and some dangerous foodstuffs that most people would never choose for themselves. It is known that 8-10 hungry people do not use food banks because of the embarrassment and the poor quality of the food on offer – that means only 20% of hungry people approach food banks. Surely with the resources it now has, the TT would want to help create a good food aid system that encouraged the other 80% to use its services – evidently not.

The report and TT ‘sugar action’ will do nothing improve this situation. Consequently, most hungry people will struggle and stay hungry outside of the food aid system and those who do enter into the food bank offer will continue to get fed badly.

Last week, we were heartened to hear that a few key decision makers are now starting to listen to the very strong argument we have put forward that proves TT provide a poor-food offer to hungry people. We intend to use the report as further evidence that the TT have no intention of changing.

Our campaign work continues and will do so until the TT feed people well.

[1] We commissioned a dietitian to report of the nutritional content of the TT Family package. Its supports the assessment that the package is high in salt and sugar but also notes the package becomes deficient in calories when applied to family eating.

Structual Issues That Stop Good-Food Poverty Provision

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

processed because:

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.