Usually I'm a light-hearted and upbeat bird but today I'm getting a bit political. Recently I popped into my local Sainsbury's and on my way out a stand caught my eye. It for was a local foodbank who were collecting food donations. Unfortunately I had finished my shop and needed to be elsewhere so I didn't have time to go back to buy something to donate. Instead I asked for a flyer so I could find where to donate after my next food shop.
I was shocked. The flyer informed me that 1 in 5 people are living below the poverty line in the UK and some families are unable to buy food. Redundancy, divorce, delays in receiving benefits and low incomes are contributing to people in our country going hungry. Even worse I live in Cheshire which on the whole is pretty affluent and known for being a place where footballers and WAGS inhabit so the fact that this was happening in my county shocked me even more. When we think of food poverty and hunger we tend to think of Africa, Live Aid and Bob Geldof rather than it being an issue in our own communities.
I felt pretty crap - there's me worrying whether I'd eaten my five a day and drank enough water while there are families locally unable to feed themselves and their kids. It also made me think of all of this guilt put on us regarding cooking and shopping; air miles, buying organic, shopping locally. Well this can only be a concern if you're lucky enough to afford your weekly shop. I've been on the dole following redundancy and quite frankly, it's crap and probably one of the most rubbish periods in my life and then I couldn't give a toss whether my chicken was organic - it was food. Every penny counts and the cost of stamps to send off application forms seemed to take up a fair chunk of my budget but it was my priority so I could get a job. The housing benefit didn't even touch the sides and thankfully I was with my partner at the time who was working as otherwise I wouldn't have been able to pay my rent. It was a scary time and I can't even imagine what it's like once kids are in the mix.
How is food poverty an issue in this country? It's crazy! Yet according to the fab organisation Love Food Hate Waste we throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink waste which costs us £12 billion pounds per year to dispose of let alone the damage to the environment. I'm sure £12 billion would be welcome to those families in need and they'd be living off bloody caviar and champagne if we could distribute that in food terms. I'm baffled and angry.
The day after my discovery I was having a bowl of soup in a local cafe while reading this flyer in depth (the guilt was growing by the minute - I'm lucky enough to treat myself to a lunch out!) when a lovely lady introduced herself to me as the North West co-ordinator for the Trussell Trust who are the charity that run the foodbank initiative. She'd seen me reading the flyer and thought she'd say hello. She told me some horror stories such as one family having such a lack of food and equipment they were trying to heat water via the radiator.
Reasons why people can't afford food aren't for us to judge. One story from the Trussell Trust talks about a woman who's partner left her and the delay in administration to apply for benefits meant that she was unable to feed her and her son. Factor in the soaring cost of food, increase in heating bills (especially in this freezing weather) and imagine it being a toss up of keeping your child warm or feeding them. A hideous situation.
No-one should go hungry and with most political issues it's tough to know where to start and wonder how on earth can we contribute to make a change. In this case, it's really easy for us to help. Foodbanks welcome food donations and provide food parcels for families in need. Often it's just short term until they can get back on their feet. It's difficult to ask people for money given the current climate but if that's not an option then I'm sure you have a tin in the back of the cupboard which could be getting near it's sell by date to donate or even just pick up one or two extra items while doing your local foodshop. Perhaps you could ask colleagues at work to bring one thing in each and donate a parcel. If you click here a map will show you where your nearest foodbank is.
Of course this isn't the solution long term. I feel this needs to be a wider public health issue and taken to a higher level but in the meantime let's not let our neighbours go hungry.