Tag Archives: food poverty

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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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.

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.

Solving food poverty in Liverpool

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I spent this afternoon at a really interesting conference organised by Can Cook searching for solutions to food poverty in Liverpool. There is so much amazing work going on in the city to support people and help them, from a comprehensive network of food banks to initiatives in schools and communities to help people learn to cook and make nutritious meals on a budget. Many of us at the conference are shocked at the increasing numbers of people relying on food aid – the number of people accessing Trussell Trust foodbanks has tripled this year. How did we come to this in the 7th richest nation in the world in the 21st Century?

Even those of us who work in food banks know that they can and should only and always be emergency support for people in crisis, and should not become embedded in our culture. Thinking long-term, I’m impressed by the cooking projects in the city, teaching skills, building community, providing resources. Equipping people is necessary if we want to tackle poverty. Lots of us would like to see the tinned and dried food provided in a food bank food parcel added to with fresh food, and some food banks have successfully incorporated fresh food into what they give out. The idea of food aid + was described by Can Cook. They have asked chefs to create 10 meals with just 15 ingredients, and suggest we could ask for these ingredients to be donated by the public in the same way that food items are donated now. I foresee logistical difficulties, but it sounds good in principle.

But I don’t think any of this gets to the heart of the matter. It does not answer the question ‘how did we come to this?’ The bottom line is that people are relying on food aid because they do not have enough money to buy food to feed their families. And sometimes people don’t have enough money to buy gas or electricity to cook said food or warm their homes. This is what we need to address. The reasons are varied and complex, including debt, benefit delays, benefit changes and sanctions, the rising cost of living, and not least new pressures on household budgets from the bedroom tax (sorry, withdrawal of the spare room subsidy) and council tax contributions. But as someone said this afternoon, one of the reasons is certainly not national poverty. The UK is a rich country, and the problem is inequality.

I read with horror that David Cameron has recently given a speech saying that austerity is the new normal.  Austerity is a big con, and a façade for the deliberate shrinking of the state. While services are being cut and support for the vulnerable in society is being removed, there is still enough money in the treasury for tax cuts for the richest and for businesses. People with mental health problems and disabilities find their benefits are stopped for failing to jump through enough hoops, while businesses are happily avoiding paying between £45 and £100 billion in tax jumping through as many tax loopholes as their accountants can find, according to Church Action on Poverty.  Where is the commitment to a Living Wage, so that people who are in work can actually afford a reasonable lifestyle without relying on state or food bank top ups?

The most striking comment of the afternoon, for me, was a remark about free school meals, during a presentation about the School Food Plan. In schools where universal free school meals were piloted, levels of attainment across all economic backgrounds improved. In other words, even children who might be expected to be well fed already benefitted from free school meals. But even more strikingly, the biggest improvements were observed for the poorest children. Not surprising, you say, but actually, these were the children who were already entitled to free school meals. So it wasn’t the introduction of free school meals which made the difference for these children, but the universality of the benefit. This is a demonstration of the difference that can be made when we truly work together for the good of all, for the common good.

Hungry For More

Hungry For More

This link takes you to the Church Urban Fund’s report on how churches are responding to food poverty. You can read the executive summary or the whole report, but I was especially interested in the comments about how we respond and offer help – relief, rehabilitation or development.