Banner image: Mack Male
Mickey Reedy, Co – Director at This is Rubbish
This week The Evening Standard announced, for the second time, that it had found the solution to food waste. The solution is redistribution by way of The Felix Project. Hilary Croft, Felix Project Chief Executive, claimed “It’s the fact that food poverty is so avoidable in this country that is maddening. [This can be] solved by putting in place simple measures of redistribution.”
Hilary is correct that the crisis of food poverty is avoidable. But the truly maddening part is that not enough is being done to alleviate the deep causes of poverty, such as cuts to vital benefits and paucity of secure, adequately paid jobs. 60% of people in poverty in Britain are in working families, according to a recent study by Cardiff University. I find it maddening that 70,000 London children are going to school hungry while an estimated one in five shopping baskets worth of food is thrown away. Above all I find it maddening that the solution is to continue with business as usual finding a way to justify systemic waste as a solution to poverty rather than examining the root causes of both. The assertion that food redistribution is “a simple solution” is misleading.
According to The Institute for Fiscal Studies Nearly 4m children are currently growing up in poverty in the UK after their families’ housing costs are taken into account. The IFS predicts we could see over a million more children growing up in poverty by 2022. The journalist Margaret Greenwood recently wrote that the last Labour government made tackling child poverty a key priority, from the creation of Sure Start centres to increases in social security and employment support targeted at lone parent families.
It paid off – between 1997 and 2010 child poverty fell by 1.1m and the employment rate for single parents increased from 44 per cent to 57 per cent.
Since 2010, progress in reducing child poverty first stalled and then after 2015 has gone into reverse. The government not only abandoned the targets set by the last Labour government to cut child poverty, but abolished the Child Poverty Unit set up to coordinate policy across government.
Much could be and has been said about benefit cuts, policy and government spending. According to the IFS absolute child poverty is projected to increase from 15.1% in 2015–16 to 18.3% in 2020–21. This increase is driven entirely by a sharp rise in poverty among families with three or more children, which is itself the result of planned tax and benefit reforms. To quote the food policy expert, Tim Lang from the centre for Food Policy at City University, “choose your parents well.” Or in this case, your siblings.
We cannot fix poverty and climate change on a meal by meal basis. TiR is calling for systemic change supported by environmental and socially just policies because carrying on business as usual will leave a devastating legacy for tomorrow’s children
As a chef, an educator and a human being, I find child hunger, malnourishment and their well-documented education and social outcomes heart breaking. I’ve heard of teachers buying breakfast cereal for their primary students, children unable to complete football tournaments due to holiday hunger and schools unable to access funding for breakfast clubs because they cannot prove the level of need. If parents are reluctant to apply for free school meals, it begs the question whether they will queue up to receive hand outs from The Felix Project.
This is Rubbish has benefitted from the Dispossessed Fund, launched by the Evening Standard campaign against food waste and managed by Food for London. We have been working with young people from refugee, migrant and low income backgrounds to give them cooking skills and redistribute fresh produce from the retail sector. Some of the kids have been ambivalent, some grateful but one thing is clear: they don’t want to be told what to eat and by extension what members of their families should be cooking, so some of the food has been rejected on those grounds. The aim of the programmes is to introduce new ingredients as well as skills to the young people and parents are usually delighted when they see their chicken and chips loving offspring eating fruit and vegetables but it has highlighted the paternalism of food redistribution. However you dress it up, people have less choice if they are being given food rejected by supermarket shoppers.
For many people, including beneficiaries of the Edible Enterprise programme, it is all very well to give them nourishing food but they lack adequate kitchen facilities to prepare it or, as Martin Caraher identified during research as a Professor of food and health policy at City University, families often lack the funds to pay for gas and electric to prepare food.
Image: Sierra Soleimani
Nobody will argue against filling the bellies of hungry children with nourishing food but there is nothing ‘simple’ about the causes and effects of food waste. A system predicated on surplus where huge supermarkets have densely stocked shelves for 24 hours a day – so those who can, will be able to purchase almost any food from any part of the planet on a whim – is unsustainable. Indeed, it flies in the face of basic social justice while many people are struggling to meet their nutritional needs and that of their children. However, rejoicing in the certainty they can rely on retail surplus presented as charity is mad as much as it is maddening. The environmentally catastrophic overproduction involved in sustaining this broken food system is maddening too. And above all calling the answer simple is dangerous.
Our motto at This is Rubbish is: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. This is why we are pleased that Emma Lewell-Buck MP’s Ten Minute Rule Bill on measuring the scale of food insecurity has passed the first reading in Parliament this week. The Felix Project can put its public reach and influence to back this bill as it enters its second reading – due to take place in February 2018 – and progress further toward becoming an Act of Parliament. Moreover, the Felix Project and the Evening Standard should do more to highlight the efforts of poverty action campaigns such as End Hunger UK working to address the root causes of poverty, such as unsustainably low wages and deep benefit cuts.
We cannot fix poverty and climate change on a meal by meal basis. TiR is calling for systemic change supported by environmental and socially just policies because carrying on business as usual will leave a devastating legacy for tomorrow’s children.