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.