A social investment note from the frontline: Two new papers – Close Big Society Capital (BSC) and give the money away.

Introduction:

Staying balanced when writing about social investment is difficult as a leader of a social enterprise – it remains largely irrelevant to anyone involved in tackling poverty or anyone with the ambition/business model to scale. For a decade or so, report after report has been produced promising ‘things can/will only get better’ – but it never has, and whilst the same old same olds preside over it and remain trusted to put it right…it never will.

I say this against the backdrop of two new reports which have appeared talking about the failure of social investment. One written by a Tory MP (here) is explicit in its criticisms and ideas. The other, meant only as some sort of historic commentary (here) never quite goes there with any criticism, but is nevertheless talking up failure throughout.

Both papers got me thinking, hence this note, and both stirred up (again) a real sense that the only real beneficiaries in this very expensive game, have been the so-called wholesaler/intermediary types, who mostly sit in the South, involving themselves in a leadership-money-go-round, self-served by their proximity to each other.

This note is critical of social finance/investment environments – but in being critical, I make no negative reference to the Key Fund, who I would argue is the only true social investor in the England. All of the others I’ve met (and I’ve met lots) are manufactured out of an ideal that they know best, they would rather tell than listen, always talk returns and struggle with all things social. Engage with these intermediary types and you learn quite quickly that outside of their ‘balance sheet bullshiting’ and spurious requests for ‘more information’ they know very little at all about the social ills rampant across the UK and care even less for the solutions.

In their paper Daggers et al talk definition, which is a good place to start.

Social Finance is = Low risk, debt driven products, limited in value and scope and looking for short term returns. This is the dominant money model social enterprises face up to. It is also what most wrongly call social investment.

Social Investment is = At risk, patient money able to add significant capacity to the enterprise. Returns are factored longer term. This money is not available.

To contextualise this note – the company I lead is 14 years old, has managed social finance in and out, created (with a colleague) our own social investment model and raised funds within that model. We are also adept at raising grant as part of the necessary funding cocktail. This year we turned over £1.5m, returned a £100k+ profit. We are a good food business with production capacity to scale up to 3x our current output. We have a defined market with a value of £25m each year, just in our region and in being ready to scale, we have set up a company in partnership with a local authority and housing association. Yet social finance does not fit for us and as social investment does not exist for us – so what is the point of it all and what could change? More of this later.

The two papers:

Moving the social investment debate on, the most useful of the two papers is the paper written by Tory MP Gareth Davies. The bit I’m interested in is his sub-optimal critique of BSC which is correct, but still more than a little generous to BSC. However, his commentary that BSC money should be opened up to SME’s is wrong and indicates why the mismanagement of the social investment marketplace by BSC and its intermediary levers has left the social enterprise sector vulnerable to a private sector shake down. Also, he talks of giving BSC a larger part of the pie to manage and make it more complex – really! This the entity that has done more to hold back the social sector than any other body I’ve come across in my career. The BSC money was intended to shape and grow the social investment/enterprise sector – it hasn’t done so, and the same money is now in the gaze of a Tory MP who see the mess BSC have created as an opportunity to expand its reference towards the private sector – who can blame him?

The Daggers paper reads well, it’s a useful travelogue of the social investment journey so far. Providing a lot of detail, it does feel like a paper that could have been written 5 years ago; meaning nothing has changed – so what is its value in 2021? Probably its real value is to set out in detail, albeit not intentionally, the true failure of the social investment model and the incredibly weak position it is in going forward, with no discernible leadership and no obvious sense of what is trying to be achieved. This has been a constant for years and now the poor leadership, poor strategy and poor delivery is coming home to roost, and I think the paper helps dig this out

One criticism of the paper is who the authors chose to consult to write it. It appears only those only those who reside inside the M25 have the knowledge to comment, as if all the social investment output and consequences started and end there – it’s an approach that declares a mindset unhelpful to moving the problem on.

Big Society Capital:

A few years ago, I sat in a London gathering of social investment/enterprise types wherein one current CEO of a prominent intermediary said about social enterprise ‘You are shit and you know you are’ applying the words to a well-known football chant.  He had a point to make and I am sure he thought he had made it. So, with a similar point to make, let me return his sentiment. Most of the so-called social investment wholesale/intermediary chain have products that ‘are shit and they know they are’, making them irrelevant to most who would require their services. The head of this irrelevant snake is BSC, who for years have promised, huffed and puffed and simply not delivered.

Overpaid as staff group, always underperforming and now described as sub-optimal – you’ve got to wonder about their value.

BSC was of course to be saved by introducing a CEO supposedly better linked to the social enterprise sector – things were going to change. This was written around the time the tenure of the same CEO coming to an end. Put simply, he did nothing different to his predecessor and left without providing any discernible benefit to the sector. Then when his sinking ship sailed on – no one wanted the job, so after a while, they appoint from within, appointing someone who had been responsible for strategy/marketing of the previous ship and all its irrelevance. Chosen (again) to improve things, the new(ish) CEO has been in the post for 18 months – allowing for his stand-in stint. It appears their internal management practice is to promote people to their own ‘levels of incompetence’ wherein each exchange of leadership leads exactly nowhere else. As an example, and to press home the problem in the clearest terms, have a read of what he has come up with after 18 months…more of the same, who would have thought it? It’s nothing more than a lifeless strategy, told in a lifeless interview about the intentions of lifeless organisation hellbent on naval gazing and sticking to its right-wing-so-called-social agenda. Oops, must remember not to get political, but as I said at the start, staying balanced is oh so difficult when confronted by the improper intentions of an organisation unfit for purpose.

To be clear, none of the so-called strategy would be of benefit to what I do, and the money needed to do it. Maybe (again) we should give him/them the benefit of the doubt, but for how long?  And maybe whilst we wait, there needs to be an alternative plan in place and should nothing happen (again), the plan could be to put BSC and the rest of us, out of their/our misery. 

Those intermediary types and the Key Fund:

On my social investment travels, I’ve met some good people…people with sound advice and who want help move ideas forward. Others though, and here I will qualify…most, were/are not up to the task, skill less to the task, with no idea of the social perspective of the enterprise model they were/are supposed to be helping to develop. It’s no wonder there is Tory interest in the way the money is being managed.

Meeting intermediaries has been a largely forgettable experience, with no recognisable method of assessment or risk management to follow, it’s wholly hit and miss, with inconsistency being the dominant process style. Our most recent experience was without doubt tone of the most disappointing. The intermediary was making stuff up as they went along, didn’t really have any money to spend, and had no sense of what they wanted. It told me, yet again, for all the investor/intermediary talk of things are improving, it was/is complete nonsense. 

Which brings me to my support of the Key Fund and what makes them different. Up front they are an investor of ours and have been with us from the start. Led by someone/ a board willing to support risk, get stuck in and understand the issues and supported by a team who want to understand both the social and the financial. In 15 years of looking for social investment, they are the only investor that has ever tried to meet us half-way – and I thank them for that.    

It’s a shame, others don’t look to share their approach, learn from their experience, but then they are up North and far removed from the epicentre of failure discussed here and in the two papers I’ve referred to earlier.

So where too next?

The point of social finance is to add short term debt support to social enterprises, sometimes mixed with a bit of grant. On some levels it works and works well, but it’s not about supporting scale, that is the work of social investment.

Scale in the social enterprise world is a peculiar thing, the ambition of most, the reality of too few and this is all too often to do with the shape of the money on offer. For so long, the social investment world has tried the mirror the mainstream investment markets, always talking up ‘Deal Flow’ – the potential of £billions being available sometime soon – see the latest BSC article referenced earlier for the latest meaningless attempt. They are always talking big and it’s just not true. They were all saying the same stuff 10 years ago and the money in the system, for what it is worth, is as naïve as it was 10 years ago – so why are we still trusting most of the same people/organisations to address the money problem the sector has – they have had long enough.

Social enterprise is in a precarious position, politically insignificant, part of a dysfunctional national structure and in the regions, at the behest of whatever grant funding regimes it can access – it all needs a re-boot. Sure, there are plenty starting up and lots more fighting to stay alive. But start-ups and all the others, need good money to establish themselves and grow and for over a decade the money has been far from good, and the social enterprise movement has stagnated or even gone backwards. This should be a concern and those who can, should use their position to bring about a change to the money and how it is being administered. Experience tells me however, nothing will change and those who can, will use their position to retrench and, on the outside, what we will see as practitioners is the same tired money offers, dressed up in some emperor’s new clothes. They have been doing it for years and with the same characters in the same or similar places of power – expect nothing different anytime soon.

My interest is in the social investment element of money model – the part that is not here yet, but oh so necessary, if we are to see more social enterprises scale up. I want to grow a social business that uses good food to change how people eat and look after themselves – it is a massive issue with a massive market. At the sharp end, this approach manifests itself in stopping people’s hunger, so to finish…an example to ponder.

There are now more people hungry in the UK than the combined populations of Scotland and Wales.

As BSC and their intermediary chums pretend to offer ‘social’ money, good people are starving – And here is the rub – none of their wholesale-intermediary-so-called-social-money is structured or offered in such a way to be able to tackle something socially dire as hunger – even when there is a massive marketplace to trade with.

BSC is a ship that’s sunk, an empty vessel, the same goes for most of the linked intermediaries. Best thing to do is close them all, stop the all the social investment hyperbole and retune the money into community-based initiatives (not SME’s). Some of it may get wasted, but not at the scale it is now and, I would bet it would produce significantly more long-term social impact administered that way.

Then we can all start again, afresh, no-doubt skint and looking for funds, but without the distraction of the same old playbook that has held the sector back for the past decade.

See you in a couple of years, probably writing the same stuff, about the same stuff.

Robbie Davison: The views expressed here are my own.

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Dear Marcus (and advisors)

Food poverty is only ever about the lack of good food – poverty is something else altogether. Charity offers options but is never a solution.

Covid and your intervention has raised the temperature of the food aid debate and this is welcome. Throughout the initial Covid response, better food was elevated as a priority, largely due to the activity of chefs who joined in due to restaurant closures – they wanted to cook meals! Then you joined the debate, and with your team, are addressing a number of food related issues.

Recent history teaches us that celebrity campaigns have a relatively short window of time in which to influence – think Jamie Oliver. Jamie started his campaigns when we had a Labour Government. You don’t have that advantage. The Conservatives who created this mess are by instinct and governance, libertarians, so beware. At the moment, you have Boris running scared, this will change and whatever policy difference you make will probably need to be quick.

We have spent 14 years in the good food/food aid space and have never moved from our conviction of feeding people good-fresh-meals. Any compromise here, is to deny hungry people their rights.

In the context of writing to you – 14 years on, this is what we have learnt and know.

Food poverty: Income matters but good food more so:

You have been poor, and you will know the importance of having a meal to eat.

Unfortunately, most who are now in the position you were once in, don’t have the option of a meal, instead they are offered mostly random-poor-food-products that do not make up a meal. This is by design and here is the tricky bit – Fareshare, whom you support, are the largest supplier into this poor-food-product movement. Just this week, in an Observer article about you, the Fareshare CEO claimed they were sending out 2 million meals. If this was so, and the meals were targeted, there would be no food poverty. Put simply, the Fareshare model is not about feeding people well or people’s dignity, it is about moving food products around at scale and its primary relationship is with suppliers. If you are interested, we and others, are happy to provide you with an insight of what it is like to be a Fareshare customer.

For the record, we estimate Fareshare are overclaiming their impact by at least 60%. To overclaim on this scale, makes the plight of hungry people that much worse.

Now onto the money. Food aid organisations may have already told you, food poverty is not about the lack of food, it’s about the lack of income. In the year since Covid struck, the Government have given a £20 a week increase to struggling Universal Credit households. In the same year, Fareshare and others have stated food poverty has more than doubled, it’s therefore clear that £20 has made no difference to food poverty whatsoever. This begs the question, what sort of increase in income are the campaigners requesting to make any sort of difference? Is it £50 or £100 a week, who knows? A £50 a week increase would cost the Government roughly £300m+ a week, so that is not going to happen, and £20 a week has failed to impact the problem, so has this argument run its course? We will see.

The Government may well make a short-term offer to dampen the current protest, but anything long term is not in their political DNA.

To draw this approach to a logical conclusion, it’s time for those campaigning for more income to name and cost their price and present it to the Government. Maybe they will ask you/your team for help, we hope so, because whilst this argument hangs around, it is in the way of feeding people well.

Our view, it is a sideshow with other motives. When people are hungry, access to good-healthy-meals matters most, then the money problem follows on.

The Right to Food does not go far enough:

Maybe you and your team are already part of the Right to Food discussion. Any movement towards vulnerable people getting a right to where, when and what they eat, is a move forward. But this discussion and debate has been around for 20 years or so and still no one has thought to insert the word ‘good’ into any ask made of the Government. Why for example, is the ask, not the Right to good food rather than simply food. Any subsequent rights-based model will have functions such as the food must be adequate in provision, cheap enough to buy and sustainable in supply, but if the same food is not good enough to protect people’s health and wellbeing, what is the point? And will it be much better than what we have now? Again, we will see.

There is an interesting comparison to make here. Those who are campaigning point the finger at the Government and talk about the lack of rights. However, food aid has never been a rights-based service. Now over 12 years old, the main food aid offer still denies most hungry people the right to choose their food or offer them any right to quality. This has been by design and is delivered by some of the same people pointing the finger at Government. Maybe it’s time to get the rights-to-good-food-aid house in order first, before pointing towards others and maybe you and your team can again help them along the way?

School Food: What was offered was no different to what food banks offer

The Chartwells parcel was a disgrace and their thought-through second attempt is not much better, so let’s understand why.

The company is not run by anyone with food expertise and is solely profit-led. They don’t do ‘social’ and clearly lack the compassion to make a difference to people’s lives – they make profit. In short,  they are typical school food provider. They promise head teachers or school managers something to turn their heads, then often under-deliver to strip out profit. This is business, where profit exceeds quality, so it is to be expected.

However, in the charitable world, the reverse should happen, and quality should exceed cost, yet unfortunately, there is no difference whatsoever. When the shockwave hit last week and everyone jumped on the bandwagon, including those who know nothing about school food (see many within the Food Foundation letter you signed) It was all ‘this is terrible’ – ‘this should never happen’ etc and whilst the shock was right, other considerations are to be made here. Some of those who signed the Food Foundation campaign letter and interestingly, the Food Foundation themselves, have stayed steadfastly silent about the quality of food offered to hungry people as if it is in some way different to the food offered to hungry school children out of school hours. It’s not, and the Chartwells approach is no different to the food aid offer that has been offending people’s dignity for over a decade – so why pick now to go live with their shock? Was it because of you and the opportunity you offer to them or was it because they have, 10 years on, changed their minds? Time will tell on both counts.

Of course, some may think the difference is that Chartwells are being paid and yes there is a small difference, but even so, where did the Government get the idea for these boxes from? And what model did Chartwells copy? Is the answer to both…food bank parcels – coincidence? You decide.

Chartwells have made changes (they have a lot to lose) and the Government may well concede something else, but will any of it mean hungry people are fed well? When again the finger is being pointed at others, remember the part most food aid agencies continue to play in influencing the food-indignity hungry people have to face every day.

For too long, food aid has concentrated on food insecurity and other than much more poor-food being funnelled in, very little has changed.

80% of hungry people never use a food bank because the food is so poor, so how can these people be helped? The simple answer is feed-them-well.

Food aid needs a plan, and the plan needs to start from and concentrate on the health and dignity of people who are hungry now. More charity is nothing more than a sticking plaster and there are other food-based solutions are available that move on from charity. Although, from our experience, the current group of food aid charities will do all they can to steer away from good-food solutions and towards their own aims.

Many agencies are ready to feed hungry people well and again, some have a plan to deliver the necessary change. Maybe it will be of interest to you and yours?

You will not be able to solve poverty, but you have a stage and opportunity to make a difference in influencing others to provide meals and only good food, which in turn will help to stop food poverty – All the best to you.

Food Poverty Team at Can Cook/Well-Fed.

 

 

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12 weeks of good food

13 years ago, we set out to feed everybody good fresh food. 13 years on, we have never wavered. Amid panic buying, stock shortages and social distancing, good, fresh food has remained our priority and getting it out to our most vulnerable is our aim.

As the pandemic started to encroach on life as we know it, and talks of lockdown became a reality, requests came flooding in. With meals on wheels being a distant memory in the minds of many we suddenly had a huge problem on our hands: thousands advised not to leave their homes and no door to door delivery service of nutritious, good food.

Needless to say, this was an opportunity for us to set up and deliver the biggest fresh food aid service we have ever attempted. The fresh food-aid service we have long campaigned for.

Day to day we are mainly a food supplier, with our production kitchens pushing out hundreds of freshly made meals daily. Across North Wales, we cater for 8 extra care schemes as well as a primary school in Liverpool and a nursery on the Wirral. With the necessary equipment, professionally trained chefs, and access to a food supply chain we already had the relevant expertise to expand our already existing good food supply, to the vulnerable public.

We have worked in food for over a decade with people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. We know what food people like and don’t like and we have the capability and knowledge to create dishes approved by children, adults, and older people. Whilst people of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities have been pushed to self-isolate we were able to push out a menu that caters for all.

We’ve now surpassed the eighth week of our 12-week programme – although we anticipate the need will continue for much longer. Throughout this time we have delivered over 41,000 fresh meals to vulnerable families and adults across Flintshire and South Liverpool.

During this time, I reached my 6-month checkpoint of being a part of the Can Cook/ Well-Fed team. Moving from social media co-ordinator to fundraiser, to food poverty project facilitator to delivery driver and now production kitchen assistant. Working for our organisation means getting stuck in wherever necessary, whenever necessary. This means pulling in every pair of hands available to help in pushing out meals to those affected by COVID, even if your job title is Managing Director. Its hard graft producing, packaging, and distributing 5000 meals a week between 8 of us but that’s what it means to be part of the Can Cook team. We all have a huge commitment and massively believe in the work we’re doing.

It’s something we say constantly but we always work behind the saying ‘if you feed people well, they are more likely to get out of their crisis and if you don’t, they won’t’ and it’s true. This is a saying that is applicable to all the work we do with people living in food poverty and is particularly relevant to the work we’re doing right now. If you feed people well, they are going to have a stronger immune system, an immune system more capable of fending off a life-threatening illness. If you feed people poorly, their immune system will remain weak and therefore susceptible to life-threatening illnesses. Of course, we’re not claiming good food will protect you entirely from COVID-19 but we are saying you’re far more likely to be able to fend it off with a belly full of nutritious food. It’s as simple as that.

We knew the work we set out to deliver would help people in the community during this time, but we did not anticipate the level of difference our food and the scale of production has made to peoples lives. We’ve had people contact us with various health conditions, disabilities and individual heartbreaking circumstances, who we have been able to point in the right direction to receive food. People who are scared, and people who need reassurance. Knowing that we are making a real difference to the lives of these people is what our work is all about. It makes the 5am alarms and 6pm finishes worth it and for me personally it is exactly what I joined Can Cook to do.

Whilst there doesn’t seem to be a clear end in sight for the work we’re doing at the minute we’re happy to continue knowing that people who are shielding or are in poverty are being offered dignity and choice. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the lives of so many and left livelihoods fragile. We only hope that the fresh food response of so many organisations becomes the new normal in our post-COVID-19 world and as a collective we do not revert back to the poor food aid offers that have been in place for so many years.

If you’d like to keep up to date with the work we’re doing to feed vulnerable people in our communities please follow our new twitter account: https://twitter.com/CanCookKitchen.

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We need to feed children well.

‘THE DIETS OF CHILDREN ARE PARTICULARLY CONCERNING: 47% OF PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN’S DIETARY ENERGY COMES FROM HIGH FAT SALT SUGAR FOODS (HFSS), 85% OF SECONDARY SCHOOL CHILDREN ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH FRUIT AND VEGETABLES, MORE THAN 90% ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH FIBRE AND ALL ARE EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR.’

-THE FOOD FOUNDATION 2018

The above quote sets out the narrative for the following discussion piece.

Millions of school age children are struggling with their diet and as a consequence, their health. This piece discusses the need for:

  • School food being recognised as an educator rather than a cost.
  • The preservation of the lunchtime period
  • All stakeholders in the school food supply chain to put children/young people’s health before profit.
  • Family food poverty to become an issue solved by school caterers rather than food banks

 

Introduction:

The school food industry in the UK enormous. Currently there are 32,000 schools located in the UK, which all have children waiting to be fed daily. For the majority of these children, the food provided to them in their school canteens accounts for 25-33% of their daily energy. For many others, a school meal may constitute the only nutritious food they will eat in a day. The importance of school food in a child’s life is unparalleled, and it is incumbent on every school food caterer to ensure their menus are fresh and healthy. In the public eye, schools may well respond positively to a healthy eating agenda but often in practice there is a different tale to be told.

As is typical from businesses and individuals operating within market driven societies, some school catering companies and headteachers alike are fixated on cost, and an abundance of choice. Meaning lunchtimes are seen as a cost base and more regard is paid to a canteens’ range of cheaper meal options, than the quality of its food. The goal is after all to shift product and make a profit. In the recent past, menus have become extensive, and caterers can keep prices down by keeping menu products ultra-processed, and the portions small. This protects the caterer’s gross profit and makes meals easier for school catering staff to reheat and serve. It is a model that acts to keep the caterer and school as the customer, satisfied with their business arrangements, but does little to satisfy the nutritional needs of children.

As an example; many secondary schools have integrated street food options into their canteens as a way of capturing a trend apparent on UK high streets. Options such as these are seen as an exciting way of expanding a menu whilst enticing school age children to choose school dinners. However, when the quality of fresh meals is subverted and replaced only with processed options able to hide behind the terms ‘new’ and ‘street’, the losers in this approach are the children. It is an example where caterers and schools claim to be offering up a good/better menu, due to ‘new’ choices, but the food chosen for children favours cost first. This method of cost over quality, should have no place in a school food model that has ample resource to feed children well in every school, every day.

School food caterers know they can sell a lot of HFSS foods, as these are the foods that many teenagers typically gravitate towards. It is this food group that can often dominate the school canteen. However, it is not the role of a school food caterer to reinforce the poor habits already in place in a mainstream society. Quite the contrary, in an educational setting, the role of a school food caterer is to uphold the highest food standards, to educate children about food and take responsibility for the fact that they have a child’s health and wellbeing in their hands every time they cook.

Above all, children should have access to meals and the provision of a lunchtime that allows them to eat well and of course, excel in their education. School food and lunchtimes should be as important to any Government, local authority, board of governors, headteachers, teachers and caterer as anything else on the school curriculum or anything else that takes place in a school day. Unfortunately, school food is being reduced to little more than a cost and lunchtimes dictated by the needs of the teachers rather than the wellbeing of the child. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Good-Food-Matters:

Nutritious food is of the upmost importance to the wellbeing of everyone. We now know that what we eat is more likely to kill us in the long term than drugs or alcohol, so the best food habits start early on in life. As adults, if we’re lucky enough to have the income to choose, we can always make sure our diets are healthier, tasty, and fulfilling. This is not an option, if you’re the youngest child, or a teenager at school. In fact, throughout their school lives, children, into young adults, have their diets chosen for them by adults (teachers/parents) who have no food expertise or who are following quite generic health guidelines. It is often a path leading to mostly processed, uninteresting food that serves to reinforce those bad food habits that later in life, lead to life threatening conditions.

Food is a tool by which people can do incredible things and cooking well from fresh moves us all towards doing something worthwhile, maybe even incredible. We now have a nation fixated with celebrity chefs and cookbooks. The brand of Jamie Oliver has stretched into the psyche of the majority of school aged children, but do we ever see school food recipes as interesting as some of the food in Jamie’s cookbooks? And do we ever imagine what a school food menu could look like if all the meals were prepared using the freshest ingredients, and served to look as good as those Jamie pushes out? Surely if we did, and surely if we do, we may be somewhere closer to attracting more children into eating school dinners and more children eating good food that protects their health.

Having worked in the community food market for over a decade, we know what children and families like to eat. The choices they make are relatively straight forward. School aged pupils do not have complicated diets, just as we as adults do not have complicated diets. So why are some school food menus enormous and why are the same menus, trying to feed children food they do not recognise in their everyday lives. Good food that resonates with children in their everyday lives matters. Unfortunately, for many children there is a mismatch, and this mismatch is a problem.

School Food and Austerity:

As a good food company working within our community, we have witnessed first-hand the devastation austerity causes as the policy continues to wreak havoc in communities across the UK.  Recently, the Food Foundation published findings that estimate 4 million children currently live in households that struggle to afford food that meets the national nutritional guidelines. At the same time, there are families who struggle to feed their children at all. Food, and more importantly, good food, has never been more of a pressing issue.

Much of what was socially achieved prior to the crash in 2008 has suffered at the hands of austerity, and school food is no different. School food budgets have come into focus and as a consequence for many pupils, school meals reflect only what many parents are able to purchase on any high street; ultra-processed, packaged goods that are set up to be reheated. Moreover, as food poverty spreads and increases across the UK, inadequate responses such as food banks in schools are doing more to worsen the diets of children and normalise the existence of poverty. Austerity has heightened the intensity of a negative food environment that continues to permeate all community food institutions. As a result, children’s health and wellbeing are being impaired on a scale not seen in this country for decades, but school food has the potential to be a key player in turning this around.

Austerity has always been and continues to be quite literally a matter of life and death for those worse off in Britain. One estimate is, 120,000 lives have been cut short as a direct result of austerity measures, put in place by successive Conservative Governments. Whilst cuts continue, in a school/community context, it is the responsibility of headteachers, school caterers and all community educators to protect children’s diets, even in the most austere of times. Without the protection of this simple aspect of life, levels of obesity will continue to rise and with it a whole host of diet related, life threatening diseases.

How we see school food:

Here at Can Cook, we passionately believe in feeding people well. We see school food as the most important element for keeping children/young people healthy and well.  We have created a school food model that will feed every pupil in school good, fresh food and in addition, provide every family struggling in food poverty, free good food for as long as they are in crisis. Every school food provider can offer this service.

Meals form the basis of our school food approach and meals must remain a mainstay of the wider UK school food industry approach. Too many school caterers are substituting meals for options such as sandwiches. Through our work, we will continue to challenge the notion that sandwiches should play an important part of any school food menu. Sandwiches are a snack never a meal, and are often used by school caters as a successful route to improving their gross profit. Often, children who are in poverty, leave school and cheap sandwiches are also the default to meals at home. Sandwiches in school and sandwiches at home make for unhealthy diets and schools should never be a part of creating a diet that damages a young person’s health. Schools have the means to take a lead and remove the sandwich option ensuring every child is able to eat a hearty meal, each day, every day. Being on the frontline of poverty for 13 years, we have explored the dangers of sandwiches in a child’s diet many times and summarised some of our thoughts in a previous blog: https://www.cancook.co.uk/2017/09/

School food caterers have a duty to feed children well and to do so, a good fresh meal should always be the main offer during lunchtimes.

Reluctance for Change – Why do pupils choose poor foods?

We are all victims of food marketing and the charade marketing creates, depicting poor-food as anything but poor. Children spend most of their childhood at school, and as such, school food is incredibly influential in reinforcing either good or bad food habits onto children. Outside school, children and families are bombarded by poor-food marketing/influences, and if both in and out of school the influences and images are conjoined, the race is only ever to an unhealthy bottom.

It has been estimated that up to 60% of people from any demographic never cook at home, so poor-food habits are already entrenched. In these circumstances, changing habits is difficult, but not impossible. A great place to start is in the school canteen, and it is incumbent on all teachers and caterers alike to create a good-food culture for every pupil, in every school.

We need to move past the current situation where our veg consumption is no better than in the 1970’s even after campaigns such as five-a-day. We require a new approach and narrative driven by the provision of good food, full of vegetables, that will encourage children to eat – this is not difficult but many school food caterers do not want to do the work and many schools are ignorant to the facts.

Schools are changemakers otherwise what is the point of them? But if they are to ignore school food as an important part of their changemaking, they are stepping aside of their duties and are no more than facilitators in the poor-health of the children they take into their trust. This is a fact and a fact that is easy to rectify.

The importance of the lunch hour

Like all institutions, a school day is organised around food. Like adults at work, most children look forward to their lunch hour. It is a period of respite that they require, to curb their hunger and recuperate before an afternoon of work. However, on top of ignoring the importance of good food some schools are ignoring the importance of the lunchtime period as a vital/pivotal tool in a child’s education.

In some communities there has been a discussion/move to adjust and shorten the school lunchtime – to later in the day and to only 30 mins – but how does this benefit the child? It is a move wholly predicated on the concerns of the teacher/school, as opposed to the welfare and education of the child.  Just take a minute to picture your own working lunchtime routine and compare it to the new suggested lunchtime to be potentially forced on pupils. Imagine for instance your employer allowing you to purchase food from one retailer, and installing a shorted lunchtime than means you have to stay put in one place and you can’t eat it until much later in the day (1.30pm to be exact) – Imagine the reaction that would ensue? So why would any consideration be paid to enforcing the same regime onto children?

Changes to their timetables have exposed schools for failing to recognise the reality of life for their pupils. For example, according to a survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation, one in four secondary school pupils skip breakfast on their average school day. This could be for a number of reasons, including lack of income, but the fact remains the same: for a quarter of all secondary schoolers, their first meal of the day is their lunch. Schools who are thinking about these changes or are already squeezing lunchtimes are evidently ignorant to the lives of the pupils they are responsible for.

Children who are forced to wait for their lunch become hungrier and more disruptive, with plenty of evidence that even the shortest term, hunger causes behavioural issues. This ongoing cycle of poor-food practice around children catalyses immediate problems of poor behaviour in school as well as wider issues of depression, poor body image and longer lasting health effects – to name just a few. Protected lunchtimes and good-food is simply common sense and must become the starting point for any school to become recognised as a good-school.

A Call for Change

Austerity and the poor-food practice that surrounds it is creating a food-underclass. This underclass are being forced to eat food that most people would never choose to eat. In inner cities, the circumstances leading to a child becoming part of this underclass is affecting about 2 in 5 children and the numbers are growing. In any community, schools are integral to the development of the children they take in and the wider community they tie into. They have incredible power and influence and it is this power and influence that can bring about the most positive change in a child’s diet and wellbeing.

We have set out here some concerns about the direction school food has gone in, and to finish provide here, a list of improvements/changes, every school can make or maintain if they want to feed children and young people well;

  • Set menus that are about the wellbeing of the child not the gross profit of the catering provider.
  • Protect the lunchtime as sacrosanct in the school day
  • Remove sandwiches as a main meal option in all schools
  • Serve only fresh meals to children during their lunchtimes
  • Make sure all school meals are relevant to the eating habits of the children they serve
  • Provide a good-food safety net for hungry families caught up in food poverty

All of the above are simple changes to make, easy to implement and can be afforded, therefore any school that remains outside of the above, chooses to do so.

One final thought…We operate our school food model behind a simple message:

If you feed a child well, they are more likely to study/live well, if you don’t, they won’t.

Let’s hope it catches on.

 

,

The importance of the lunch hour and how we create change.

Like all institutions, a school day is organised around food. Like adults at work, most children look forward to their lunch hour. It is a period of respite that they require, to curb their hunger and recuperate before an afternoon of work. However, on top of ignoring the importance of good food some schools are ignoring the importance of the lunchtime period as a vital/pivotal tool in a child’s education.

In some communities there has been a discussion/move to adjust and shorten the school lunchtime – to later in the day and to only 30 mins – but how does this benefit the child? It is a move wholly predicated on the concerns of the teacher/school, as opposed to the welfare and education of the child.  Just take a minute to picture your own working lunchtime routine and compare it to the new suggested lunchtime to be potentially forced on pupils. Imagine for instance your employer allowing you to purchase food from one retailer, and installing a shorted lunchtime than means you have to stay put in one place, and you can’t eat it until much later in the day (1.30pm to be exact) – Imagine the reaction that would ensue? So why would any consideration be paid to enforcing the same regime onto children?

Changes to their timetables have exposed schools for failing to recognise the reality of life for their pupils. For example, according to a survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation, one in four secondary school pupils skip breakfast on their average school day. This could be for a number of reasons, including lack of income, but the fact remains the same: for a quarter of all secondary schoolers, their first meal of the day is their lunch. Schools who are thinking about these changes or are already squeezing lunchtimes are evidently ignorant to the lives of the pupils they are responsible for.

Children who are forced to wait for their lunch become hungrier and more disruptive, with plenty of evidence that even the shortest term, hunger causes behavioural issues. This ongoing cycle of poor-food practice around children catalyses immediate problems of poor behaviour in school as well as wider issues of depression, poor body image and longer lasting health effects – to name just a few. Protected lunchtimes and good-food is simply common sense and must become the starting point for any school to become recognised as a good-school.

Across the last few days we have discussed how school food can make a significant difference to children’s lives and to the environment of every school that wishes to feed children based on their education not the cost of a meal.

Austerity and the poor-food practice that surrounds it is creating a food-underclass. This underclass are being forced to eat food that most people would never choose to eat. In inner cities the circumstances leading to a child becoming part of this underclass is affecting about 2 in 5 children and the numbers are growing. In any community, schools are integral to the development of the children they take in and the wider community they tie into. They have incredible power and influence and it is this power and influence that can bring about the most positive change in a child’s diet and wellbeing.

We have set out here some concerns about the direction school food has gone in, and to finish provide here, a list of improvements/changes every school can make or maintain if they want to feed children and young people well;

  • Set menus that are about the wellbeing of the child not the gross profit of the catering provider.
  • Protect the lunchtime as sacrosanct in the school day
  • Remove sandwiches as a main meal option in all schools
  • Serve only fresh meals to children during their lunchtimes
  • Make sure all school meals are relevant to the eating habits of the children they serve
  • Provide a good-food safety net for hungry families caught up in food poverty

All of the above are simple changes to make, easy to implement and can be afforded, therefore any school that remains outside of the above, chooses to do so.

 

One final thought…We operate our school food model behind a simple message:

If you feed a child well, they are more likely to study/live well, if you don’t, they won’t.

Let’s hope it catches on.

,

School Food and Austerity – Why good food matters.

As a good food company working within our community, we have witnessed first-hand the devastation austerity causes as the policy continues to wreak havoc in communities across the UK.  Recently, the Food Foundation published findings that estimate 4 million children currently live in households that struggle to afford food that meets the national nutritional guidelines. At the same time, there are families who struggle to feed their children at all. Food, and more importantly, good food, has never been more of a pressing issue.

Much of what was socially achieved prior to the crash in 2008 has suffered at the hands of austerity, and school food is no different. School food budgets have come into focus and as a consequence for many pupils, school meals reflect only what many parents are able to purchase on any high street; ultra-processed, packaged goods that are set up to be reheated. Moreover, as food poverty spreads and increases across the UK, inadequate responses such as food banks in schools are doing more to worsen the diets of children and normalise the existence of poverty. Austerity has heightened the intensity of a negative food environment that continues to permeate all community food institutions. As a result, children’s health and wellbeing are being impaired on a scale not seen in this country for decades, but school food has the potential to be a key player in turning this around.

Austerity has always been and continues to be quite literally a matter of life and death for those worse off in Britain. One estimate is, 120,000 lives have been cut short as a direct result of austerity measures, put in place by successive Conservative Governments. Whilst cuts continue, in a school/community context, it is the responsibility of headteachers, school caterers and all community educators to protect children’s diets even in the most austere of times. Without the protection of this simple aspect of life, levels of obesity will continue to rise and with it a whole host of diet related, life threatening diseases.

Nutritious food is of the upmost importance to the wellbeing of everyone. We now know that what we eat is more likely to kill us in the long term than drugs or alcohol, so the best food habits start early on in life. As adults, if we’re lucky enough to have the income to choose, we can always make sure our diets are healthier, tasty, and fulfilling. This is not an option if you’re the youngest child, or a teenager at school. In fact, throughout their school lives, children, into young adults, have their diets chosen for them by adults (teachers/parents) who have no food expertise or who are following quite generic health guidelines. It is often a path of mostly processed, uninteresting food that serves to reinforce those bad food habits that later in life lead to life threatening conditions.

Food is a tool by which people can do incredible things and cooking well from fresh moves us all towards doing something worthwhile, maybe even incredible. We now have a nation fixated with celebrity chefs and cookbooks. The brand of Jamie Oliver has stretched into the psyche of the majority of school aged children, but do we ever see school food recipes as interesting as some of the food in Jamie’s cookbooks? And do we ever imagine what a school food menu could look like if all the meals were prepared using the freshest ingredients, and served to look as good as those Jamie pushes out? Surely if we did, and surely if we do, we may be somewhere closer to attracting more children into eating school dinners and more children eating good food that protects their health.

Having worked in the community food market for over a decade, we know what children and families like to eat. The choices they make are relatively straight forward. School aged pupils do not have complicated diets, just as we as adults do not have complicated diets. So why are some school food menus enormous and why are the same menus, trying to feed children food they do not recognise in their everyday lives. Good food that resonates with children in their everyday lives matter. Unfortunately, for many children there is a mismatch, and this mismatch is a problem.

We are all victims of food marketing and the charade marketing creates depicting poor-food as anything but poor. Children spend most of their childhood at school, and so school food is incredibly influential in reinforcing either good or bad food habits onto children. Outside school, children and families are bombarded by poor-food marketing/influences, and if both in and out of school the influences and images are conjoined, the race is only ever to an unhealthy bottom.

It has been estimated that up to 60% of people from any demographic never cook at home, so poor-food habits are already entrenched. In these circumstances, changing habits is difficult, but not impossible. A great place to start is in the school canteen, and it is incumbent on all teachers and caterers alike to create a good-food culture for every pupil, in every school.

We need to move past the current situation where our veg consumption is no better than in the 1970’s even after campaigns such as five-a-day (Food Foundation). We require a new approach and narrative driven by the provision of good food, full of vegetables, that will encourage children to eat – this is not difficult but many school food caterers do not want to do the work and many schools are ignorant to the facts.

Schools are changemakers otherwise what is the point of them? But if they are to ignore school food as an important part of their changemaking, they are stepping aside of their duties and are no more than facilitators in the poor-health of the children they take into their trust. This is a fact and a fact that is easy to rectify.

In our final instalment of this 3-part discussion piece on school food we shall be exploring the importance of the lunch hour and how we create change.

,

We need to feed children well.

 

‘THE DIETS OF CHILDREN ARE PARTICULARLY CONCERNING: 47% OF PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN’S DIETARY ENERGY COMES FROM HIGH FAT SALT SUGAR FOODS (HFSS), 85% OF SECONDARY SCHOOL CHILDREN ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH FRUIT AND VEGETABLES, MORE THAN 90% ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH FIBRE AND ALL ARE EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR.’

-THE FOOD FOUNDATION 2018

The above quote sets out the narrative for following and subsequent discussion pieces.

Setting the Scene

Millions of school age children are struggling with their diet and as a consequence, their health. This piece discusses the need for:

  • School food being recognised as an educator rather than a cost.
  • The preservation of the lunchtime period
  • All stakeholders in the school food supply chain to put children/young people’s health before profit.
  • Family food poverty to become an issue solved by school caterers rather than food banks

Here at Can Cook, we passionately believe in feeding people of all ages well and we see school food as the most important element for keeping children/young people healthy and active.  We have created a school food model that will feed every pupil in school good, fresh food and in addition, will provide every family struggling in food poverty, free, good food for as long as they are in crisis. The school food industry is enormous. Currently there are 32,000 schools located in the UK, which all have children waiting to be fed daily. Meaning every school food provider has the means to offer the service described above.

Meals form the basis of our school food approach and meals must remain a mainstay of the wider UK school food industry approach. Too many school caterers are substituting meals for options such as sandwiches. Through our work, we will continue to challenge the notion that sandwiches should play an important part of any school food menu. Sandwiches are a snack, never a meal, and are frequently used by school caters as a successful route to improving their gross profit. Often, children who are in poverty, leave school and cheap sandwiches are also the default to meals at home. Sandwiches in school and sandwiches at home makes for an unhealthy diet and schools should never be a part of creating a diet that damages a young person’s health. Schools have the means to take a lead and remove the sandwich option, ensuring every child is able to eat a hearty meal, each day, every day. Being on the frontline of poverty for 13 years, we have explored the dangers of sandwiches in a child’s diet many times and summarised some of our thoughts in a previous blog: https://www.cancook.co.uk/2017/09/

For the majority of children, the food provided to them in their school canteens accounts for 25-33% of their daily energy. For many others, a school meal may constitute the only nutritious food they will eat in a day. The importance of school food in a child’s life is unparalleled, and it is incumbent on every school food caterer to ensure their menus are fresh and healthy, and a good, fresh meal is always the main offer at lunchtime. In the public eye, schools may well respond positively to this kind of healthy eating agenda but often in practice there is a different tale to be told.

As is typical from businesses and individuals operating within market driven societies, some school catering companies and headteachers alike are fixated on cost, and an abundance of choice. Meaning lunchtimes are seen as a cost base, and more regard is paid to a canteens’ range of cheaper meal options, than the quality of its food. The goal is after all to shift product and make a profit. In the recent past, menus have become extensive, and caterers can keep prices down by keeping the products ultra-processed, and the portions small. This protects the caterer’s gross profit and makes meals easier for school catering staff to reheat and serve. It is a model that acts to keep the caterer and school as the customer, satisfied with their business arrangements, but does little to satisfy the nutritional needs of children.

As an example; many secondary schools have integrated street food options into their canteens as a way of capturing a trend apparent on UK high streets. Options such as these are seen as an exciting way of expanding a menu whilst enticing school age children to choose school dinners. However, when the quality of fresh meals is subverted and replaced only with processed options able to hide behind the terms ‘new’ and ‘street’, the losers in this approach are the children. It is an example where caterers and schools claim to be offering up a good/better menu, due to ‘new’ choices, but the food chosen for children favours cost first. This method of cost over quality, should have no place in a school food model that has ample resource to feed children well in every school, every day.

School food caterers know they can sell a lot of HFSS foods, as these are the foods that many teenagers typically gravitate towards. It is this food group that can often dominate the school canteen. However, it is not the role of a school food caterer to reinforce the poor habits already in place in a mainstream society. Quite the contrary, in an educational setting, it is the role of a school food caterer to uphold the highest food standards, to educate children about food and take responsibility for the fact that they have a child’s health and wellbeing in their hands every time they cook.

Above all, children should have access to meals and the provision of a lunchtime that allows them to eat well and of course, excel in their education. School food and lunchtimes should be as important to any Government, local authority, board of governors, headteachers, teachers and caterer as anything else on the school curriculum or anything else that takes place in a school day. Unfortunately, school food is being reduced to nothing more than a cost and lunchtimes dictated by the needs of the teachers rather than the wellbeing of the child. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Social change, including the importance of good food, has somewhat been placed on hold as a result of austerity and its devastating effects. Tomorrow we shall be discussing the reality of school food under austerity and how in spite of this, good food should remain a priority.

 

 

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A Fresh Start

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.

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Goodbye For Now

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.
My advice?
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,
Leigh

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Definition: Reactive

Definitions are a funny thing.

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’.

Or bank;

‘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.

donation caption

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.