Is a profound food crisis already here?
Food insecurity means many things to different segments of society
For some, it’s about fishing rights and quotas, for another sector it’s about growing enough food in the UK to feed our growing population. For others, it’s about how to make tough decisions to feed a family when there are too many days in the month and insufficient money to manage.
Marcus Rashford MBE has shone a very bright spotlight on food inequalities in the UK
The impact has been quite different from others who have tried in the past with limited effects.
The notion of food insecurity as a consequence of poverty is real for many
Back in 2018, a Food Foundation report stated that almost 4 million UK children live in households that find it impossible to afford a healthy diet. With the impact of Covid we know this figure is rising. When we talk about food waste and also the plentiful supply (for those with the resources) it is pitiful to think that for whatever reason, children are having their future health compromised by the lack of a healthy diet.
School Dinners are a lifeline for many
Photo: Richard Bell
When you make decisions based on price then it’s easy to see that a cheap pizza that may cost £1 equals a meal. If you buy a cabbage or cauliflower for the same price it’s not complete and there’s no certainty the kids will like it. With food poverty, sometimes inadequate facilities and cheaper supermarkets in out of town shopping locations the situation is grim. This is why school dinners are such a lifeline for so many. Yet, of course, this is just one aspect of a far bigger political issue.
What does it really mean to struggle with food poverty?
Photo Justus Menke
The Food Report highlighted the fact that those families within the poorest 20% would need to spend almost half of their after-housing income to follow the 5 a day government mantra. This causes real hardship. Dr Megan Blake, who is a senior lecturer of food security and justice at the University of Sheffield, is clear about its impact and says that when budgets are squeezed people make profound changes. Basically, they trade down and find food that will fill stomachs regardless of nutritional content. No one can risk buying something that won’t be eaten, and bargain basement food is often highly processed and highly calorific. This may well contribute to the fact that 26% of children in their final year of primary school are obese in poorer areas. This compares to 11% in those more affluent locations. Sharon Hodgson MP, Chair of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry committee has been clear in her opinion that a healthy diet should not be the preserve of those who can afford it.
What can we do to help practically?
Olio is a small example of practical assistance. The app is one that connects people who live close by to donate surplus food. There are all kinds of reasons why we find ourselves in possession of too much food. Ironic really when you consider the first few paragraphs of this article. We all know we can repurpose food. I am sure we can be creative about ensuring that those that have, can help those who find themselves in challenging circumstances. OLIO also has a non-food section too.
We cannot look away any longer; the crisis is here
You can also donate items such as toiletries, kitchen equipment, books, toys & clothes. Check it out. Charity begins in your local area. Surely, we can do so much more to stop the massive waste we are all guilty of making. The other aspect that really needs attention is the provision of other basic services/rights such as a living wage, targeted healthcare services, education and so on. These are things that we cannot afford to ignore any longer.
In addition, food banks are ramping up their efforts and transforming their organisational capacities
Should they exist? No, but they do, and they are under increasing pressure. Improving warehousing and logistics can make a massive difference to the effect of these essential food outlets. Optimising efficiency is the key phrase and McKinsey has estimated that in the U.S. for example, 20-30% increase in efficiency can be achieved by ensuring warehousing is slick and streamlined.
Everyone needs to do more
Photo: Wolfgang Hasselmann
Ensuring sufficient storage space is key and so is making sure ambient foods are not left away from refrigeration as this leads to spoilage and waste. Also having a focus on increased staff rotas, coordinating distribution, the utilisation of lorries and drivers’ timetables and schedules. These are all highly practical time savings and logistic considerations that can improve the distribution of food to those that need it the most.
In addition, we all need to think more creatively about what we are going to do to improve food security in every respect
What is most important, to my mind, is a change in how we think about the issue. If we believe we can and should do something about this challenge, then it’s likely we will find solutions. Planning is important, we need to develop a more proactive approach to these issues rather than fighting fires endlessly. This will mean changes politically too. Marcus Rashford has become another voice calling for change. Yet don’t we all need to ask ourselves why are so many people finding it difficult to have regular access to nutritional, good quality food? What are the real reasons? What are your thoughts? I'd love to start a discussion on this thread.