Why Food Banks are not the solution

Save the Children announced this week that it has launched its first appeal to support UK children.

The BBC have also made this film about the growing demand on a food bank in Coventry.

A while back I wrote about Live Below the Line which is an initiative by The Global Poverty Project and Christian Aid to highlight what it is like to, well, Live Below the Line. I was so shocked at what they suggested to buy in order to stay within budget, which included a bag of 20 sausages for £1 and bargain sliced white bread at 47p. This prompted me to see exactly how little money I could feed myself on and still have a healthy balanced diet. I called it Not Living Below the Line.

So how are all these connected? Because I do not believe that Food Banks are the solution to food poverty. Learning to cook is.

Arlene Phillips is supporting the Save the Children campaign as she remembers her child hood where her mom have to make an eat or heat choice. I too remember having to eek out the one shilling for the gas meter, and frost on the inside of my bedroom window, but my nan managed to feed our family on what was probably a below the line budget, because she knew how to cook. She stretched meals. The leg of lamb on Sunday re appeared in a number of meals throughout week. And she never, ever threw food away.

It is shocking that in the UK that there are families that are not able to afford decent food. And many are families that are in paid employment, yet are in debt (and debt can happen for many reasons) or don’t earn enough to meet the rent, heat and food bills. Others are are on benefits (and none of use are immune from unemployment). And these families are having to choose to eat or heat. Everyday.

So if a food bank is not a solution, what is?

I love the old saying, ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, give a man a rod and you feed him for life’. My modern version is ‘give a family a tin of soup and you feed them for a day, give a family a bag of lentils, carrots and onions, and cooking lessons, and you feed them for a week’. It’s less catchy of course but more relevant in an inner city, as a rod won’t help you much in Birmingham, even if we have more miles of canals than Venice.

When you consider the amount of food the average supermarkets throws away at the end of each day I have real sympathy for the freegan movement. Some have even suggested that we steal from supermarkets.

And the average family apparently bins £300 of wasted food a year. Mainly I suspect because supermarkets bombard us with BOGOF offers that are designed to make us spend more and buy more than we need.

Surely there is a way that charities and supermarkets can work together to reduce food waste? Can we provide not just food at the food bank but also an opportunity for families who feed their children chicken nuggets because the don’t think they can afford fruit and vegetables. Can we teach the art of cooking and families eating together?

And are food co-operatives, linking up with artisan bakers the way forward? What, I hear you say, artisan bread as a solution to food poverty? Hear me out. I am attending the launch Stirchley Stores who have joined forces with Loaf a community bakery and cookery school. This is I think the real way of tackling food poverty, providing affordable and ethical food and the knowledge how to cook it. The People’s Supermarket is another independent supermarket that is also taking on the big boys. I hope we see more of initiatives like this and less of the gigantic supermarkets that rip the heart out of the high street. Locally a group of moms who were fed up of not being able to buy organic food locally got together and formed their own food co-operative. The Bearwood Pantry sourced a provider a local baker and also buy from a local community led market garden.

So there are better solutions than food banks and I for one will not let up saying this. And we should be lobbying the supermarkets and the government to ensure that no child in the UK goes hungry.

I also thoroughly recommend you read these wonderful posts by two brilliant bloggers! http://dorkymum.wordpress.com/


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