Food banks aren't sustainable. Go to any one of them and pick up the energy of people pedalling madly trying to keep up with a huge increase in demand. Food banks like St Ann's try to solve the problem by challenging benefit sanctions and sorting out the reasons why people may have no money left for food that week. They are attempting to go back towards the source of the problem but they can only do so much. We are living in the midst of a crisis around who we are, how we eat, how we consume and how we empower ourselves to change, and food poverty and food banks are the manifestation of that. Food poverty is a state of mind as much as an economic reality.
My issue with food banks is that we are attempting to mitigate the damage done further upstream by giving vulnerable people free food. People end up being referred to food banks because they are in crisis. That crisis isn't just about food, it's the crisis of our whole society where we have people actually struggling to feed themselves. Step back from this for a moment and just scratch your head and wonder how the hell a developed nation with an astonishing array of technology, science and ability has members of its own, scrabbling around looking for food? How it is that we have children who are literally starving, malnourished and stunted and how we have people rotting away in our very midst for want of love and sustenance?
What the hell has happened here? How are we living like this? I believe it's because poverty is a market. It's attempted relief sucks vast sums of public money but like the diet or pharmaceutical systems, a cure doesn't make money. For all the incredible people out there working so, so hard to help people, it's frustrating. Follow the money upstream to see the few yet very influential number of groups who we pay to solve the problems that the other companies they own create. Consuming, competitive, corrupt capitalism needs to be starved to death; it's the system that needs to be packed off with some noodles and a tin of carrots. We need to turn our back on this sham edifice where food poverty is an intended consequence of political policy.
Food banks don't work. They feed people in crisis but they don't work. Follow the problem upstream to our core social values as espoused by our current form of government. Lack, scarcity, competition: these are the issues that food banks can never be a solution to. I don't think food banks are pretending to be the solution. We all know that they are a stop gap that has arisen because of an austerity ideology that has degraded our very humanity. People presenting in food poverty suffer from the wider impoverishment of food; its commodification. They might suffer from a lack of food knowledge, or a lack of food capital, and a scarcity of available resources because of a system that over inflates the price and simultaneously degrades the incredible food resources our planet gifts us. Food banks don't work because this austerity ideology needs victims, it needs people for Michael Gove to blame. Food banks are even worse than that in my mind because its another market for the very organisations that are causing the problem. You go to the supermarket and you BUY a few more items to donate to the food bank. These supermarkets and corporate food producers have managed to make a market out of food crisis.
So, rant over. What next? Well firstly see through the headlines designed to get you angry. Peek through the bushes and notice how many amazing food initiatives are springing up. Loads of fantastic people sowing, growing, mowing, making, baking, jamming, pickling and preserving. So many great cooks who can magic a mega pan of something good out of a few ingredients. All those people who are buying into a relocalisation of the food economy as they see the benefits. The attempts at reintroducing wholesale in this country, the move towards people growing their own food. These solutions were already there; we are already able to turn this around because we already have the skills and resources to up our food game. The edifice is crumbling away and the corporate food theme park is looking shabby. I don't want to go there anymore; I want to participate in a celebration of food and an appreciation of our incredible planet's abundant resources, and trade with those people and groups who get that, and indeed the corporations that are looking to change for social betterment.
But what about those people who are so far down the food helter skelter that they will struggle to stop the downward tumble? Social eating spaces. Spaces where you can come and enjoy a meal for whatever you have in your pocket or where you can volunteer in return for a meal. Not soup kitchens, not places where everyone's skint and its miserable, not a place where you wash up because you are simply desperate. A social eating space; a warm, welcoming, homely, inclusive place to sit and eat. Fulfil your human need for nourishment. Tackle food waste and cycle your excess produce in return for a meal. I don't think it's any coincidence that we have presided over a massive reduction in the spaces where people can be social; these are spaces where people become empowered and share ideas. I truly believe that long term social eating spaces are places where people can be supported, offer support, see positive modelling, ask questions and be educated around food, become food-active and simply nourish themselves. Engagement with vulnerable, defensive, distrustful people takes time but it's a worthwhile investment. In the meantime there are lots of people who simply enjoy social eating and there is room around the table for everybody. Social eating spaces are sustainable and they make sense. Imagine a city with a social eating joint in every area? Even if we don't have cafe's using surplus, it's still pretty cheap to make a big pan of something good and share it. Just participate and show up at your social eating space and put your contribution in the bucket! It's not the solution to everything but it's a start. See you there....