Monthly Archives: March 2014

Fresh Fruit Blues

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We successfully completed our challenge last week as part of the End Hunger Fast campaign. The four of us ate and drank only what would be in a typical food bank parcel for three days, and filled our recycle bin with empty tins!

In some ways, this was an easy challenge. One aim of the challenge was to stand in solidarity with people in Britain who are going hungry, but actually, there is no need to go hungry with a food parcel. Although it consists only of dried or tinned food, the range of food is designed to be pretty nutritionally complete, and to be enough food to last a family for three days, giving breathing space to deal with whatever crisis has led to needing a food parcel. So we had plenty to eat, and even some left over at the end.

There were other challenges instead. The first was to turn a pile of shopping into three breakfasts, three lunches and three dinners for everyone. This took a bit of thinking and planning in advance, but we managed not to eat the same think for three days. Oh, apart from breakfast, which was only Corn Flakes and No Toast! No bread in a food parcel as it is perishable, so packed lunch was a challenge. There is pasta in the mix, and lots of people donate little packets of noodles, pasta, cous cous etc. So packed lunch was based around things like this, mixed with items out of the fish/meat and veg tins. At home I was able to have soup or a tin of spaghetti hoops! For dinner we had tuna, pasta and peas with tomatoes (and more for lunch the next day!), corned beef hash (definitely the favourite) and chilli con carne.

The thing about this challenge was that we were eating food which someone else has chosen for us. It took away our own choice and made us to eat things we wouldn’t do normally. It also means that there were restrictions. I measured out the juice on Monday to make sure we all had a fair share until Wednesday. I was worried that the milk wouldn’t last, and there would have been no alternatives if anyone didn’t like something.

But the biggest challenge, which none of us had expected, was the lack of fresh food.We didn’t realise how much we would miss it! I don’t avoid tins and packets in my cooking, and there was nothing in the food parcel that I would never eat or buy (apart from tinned carrots – yuck!). But three days with nothing fresh at all, and we were all desperate for something cool and fresh in our mouths! I can’t believe how sweet and delicious a piece of apple tasted at breakfast last Thursday.

Food banks do a really important job. They help to bridge the gap when people are in crisis, and mean that people do not need to go hungry. But food banks know they are not a long-term solution to the problem. Certainly after eating a food parcel for three days, I wouldn’t want to stick to that diet for any longer. The food bank I worked with for a while (Knowsley Foodbank) gave out fresh food whenever it could, which made a big difference for many. Food banks also sign post people to other help, such as debt advice, job search support, benefits advice and other services. We also need an end to poverty wages, insecure jobs and uncertain hours; access affordable credit; and a fair benefit system which doesn’t penalised the vulnerable. That’s why we’re going to continue to support End Hunger Fast and join the national day of fasting on 4th April.

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Tearfund as a movement for Social Change

I started writing my blog as a place to think about how tackling issues like global poverty and climate change needs to start at a more fundamental level, establishing the very values which an organisation, and even society should be based on. Here is Tearfund, asking those very same questions.

TearFund has undertaken a piece of work and concluded that “they should be aiming to change the current unsustainable economic system by altering the social norms and worldviews on which it is based. They realised that a mass movement of people would be needed to achieve social change of this magnitude, and committed to helping build this movement rather than focussing on single issue campaigns and policy led processes.”

Read all about it here.

Taking the Foodbank Challenge

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We’re taking the three-day food bank challenge next week! Starting on Monday, our family of four will only eat the food which a family of four would get in a typical Trussell Trust foodbank parcel. We’re doing this as part of the End Hunger Fast. This campaign in running through Lent, standing in solidarity with people in this country who are going hungry, and calling for changes to end this scandal.

My daughter was concerned that we’d be taking food from someone who really needed it! But I reassured her that we’d get the food ourselves from the supermarket, which I have done in preparation. As you can see, it is mostly tinned and dried food. No fresh fruit or veg for three days, although some food banks do manage to find ways to give out fresh food. However, sometimes people have to give the fresh veg back as they can’t cook it, not having enough money to pay for electricity or gas.

I’ll be recording our daily experiences on Facebook, and I’ll write here again at the end. So far, apart from missing fresh stuff, one of the challenges will be finding stuff which can be packed up for school lunches. Not everyone who comes to a food bank is entitled to free school meals for their children. The three-day food parcel is for anyone facing a crisis leaving them unable to feed their families. Debt, fluctuating hours of work, illness and unexpected bills can all push people over the edge. The other issue will be lack of choice and flexibility. Careful planning will be needed to make sure the food can be turned into 9 meals and we will be limited to what comes in the parcel.

But we’re optimistic that we won’t be hungry, which, after all, is the point of the food bank. Anyone who knows us IRL might remember the food challenge we took last year – to live below the line on £1 per person per day for food for 5 days. After that, anything is possible.

This is an artificial situation for us. We are doing it to draw attention to the campaign and as an act of solidarity. But I’ll leave you with a link to A Girl called Jack’s blog, who can tell you what it is really like to go hungry.

Hope for the Future

Hope for the Future

“Here is a mystery.  The world grows warmer.  Yet climate change has disappeared from the political agenda since 2010 in this country and around the world.  The longer term threats to the earth have been drowned out by the more imminent pressures of the global economic downturn.”

Bishop Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield, speaking at Diocesan Synod last Saturday (8th March). Click on the title to follow the link to the full transcript of his speech, exploring some of the evidence for climate change and its likely devastating consequences. But he also spoke about our response to this in the context of hope. He launched a campaign, not just for Sheffield Diocese, but to go nationwide, aiming to get climate change back on the political agenda, so that we can renew the political will to do something about it. As well as our own personal efforts to reduce our carbon footprint, we are asked to write to our MP, asking them to commit to 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 in their party’s manifesto. You can take action on the Hope for the Future website, where you can read more about the campaign, which is being supported by other groups like Christian Aid, Tear Fund and Operation Noah. Let me know how you get on!

Lent and Hunger

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My daughter and I are giving up cakes for Lent – just as soon as we’ve eaten the cakes still in the house! Yes, I know that’s really what pancake day is for, but she was at a cupcake party at the weekend and still has the lovely specimen above to eat! We should be all set by the end of the week for a cake-free Lent!

We’ve made other pledges in the family for this period of abstinence. My son announced on the way home from school yesterday that he is giving up not sharing! Too many negatives there – in other words he’s going to share more between now and Easter, especially games consoles with his sister! And as a family we’ve pledged to join the End Hunger Fast campaign. We’ll be joining in the national day of fasting on 4th April and we’ll be taking the 3-day foodbank challenge at some point during Lent too.

The Christian season of Lent comes from the example of Jesus, who spent 40 days in the wilderness, going without food and focussing on God the Father to prepare for the start of his public ministry. Lent is a time for self-examination before God allowing short-comings to be revealed and then restored. The self-denial of fasting is about shifting our focus from ourselves onto God, and the discipline required means we are thrown onto His strength instead of our own. Lent is about renewing our commitment to God, and this year, some friends have given up Facebook rather than food in order to spend the time in prayer instead.

I think it’s time we had a season of self-examination in the UK. The rising numbers of people using food banks shows that many people don’t have the luxury of choosing to go hungry as a spiritual discipline – it is a part of their every day life. So this year, our fasting is in solidarity with those going hungry in Britain. And we’re joining in with the campaign to draw attention to the issue.

The End Hunger Fast campaign is calling for the Government to examine what is happening and act to bring about change in three areas; welfare, wages and food prices. Over half of those who go to a food bank are referred because of benefit delays, changes and sanctions. Regardless of the political arguments about welfare reform, government debt and affordability, social security should provide a secure safety net to ensure people do not go hungry.  The majority of households in poverty actually have one or more adults in work, but people are still at risk from hunger. Work should pay, and the minimum wage ought to make sure it does. The campaign also calls for support for the Living Wage, which I have discussed before. Meanwhile, food prices continue to rise, even ahead of inflation and way above wages. And the poorest often end up paying more for their food, or having to buy cheap but unhealthy processed food because of a lack of access to supermarkets and fresh food outlets. The campaign calls for a full review of British food markets to find ways to make them healthy, affordable and sustainable.

So, what are you giving up for Lent? Would you choose to go hungry to stand in solidarity with those who have no choice, even here in the UK? 20 charities, including Church Action on Poverty, and a number of public figures have signed up. There are lots of ways to join in and pledge your support, and there will be media moments during the campaign too. It started this morning outside the Houses of Parliament – you can see pictures on Facebook and follow the campaign there.

A strategy to tackle Child Poverty

As you’d expect from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, this blog is a clear, practical comment on child poverty, especially in the light of government plans to change how it is measured. It echoes some of what I’ve written in previous blogs: “We have too many low-paid, low-skilled, insecure jobs that do not lead to better jobs and a route out of poverty.”