We all eat. As many as 1 in 5 people in the UK, through no fault of their own struggle to access the food they need to live a healthy life. Our research shows that moderately and mildly disabled people and children–disproportionately bear the burden of hunger. It is not right that in a wealthy country like the UK there is such hardship and struggle. In this short video I talk about the causes and the effects of food insecurity and suggest some of the ways that we can act locally to help reduce hunger and hardship and stress and distress in our communities by helping them repair the damage that food insecurity causes.
For ease I am also attaching the slides so you click through them.
The water laps, and even when it does not lap there is always the possibility. It comes in and overtakes. You worry when it rains and you cannot always predict the damage the rain will do.
When it happens what you have is destroyed. The water permeates and rots the foundation. The damp and disease it carries invades your body. It leaves its traces on the walls. You try to clean the muck and grime from your memories and the material objects that hold them. You think you have it all cleaned up, but then it happens again.
People ask, “Why you don’t leave the flood plain and go up the mountain?” To them, where you live is a choice. Choice is a myth, it is a privilege actually only afforded to a few.
It takes resources and stamina to go up the mountain. You are out of both. It would also mean leaving those things and people behind, whom you have come to love. Those you know you can depend upon. It doesn’t feel like there is room for everyone up the mountain. Besides, they do things differently up there. Living on the side of the mountain requires its own skills and knowledges. You don’t feel you would belong.
This is what it is like to live in poverty in the UK today. A wealthy country, where the people who have gossip in the isles of the supermarket as they choose between buying the whole salmon or the pork roast because they can practice thrift and get three meals by bulk cooking. For those who are struggling financially, the choice is much more stark–“should we get frozen pizza or the micro burgers“. A whole salmon or pork roast is not even an option as it would eat up the whole month’s food budget. What would you eat for the rest of the month. “We will get the pizza. Everyone likes pizza and it will last in the freezer until we need it.If we add a few mushrooms it is also more healthy compared to the micro burger. If we add a bit of tomato sauce it will also taste a bit better.” Pizza is self contained. It does not go to waste. It fills up your family and you can carry it home easily. This is how to practice thrift when your budget is stretched.
We need to repair our social welfare system and our community infrastructures in order to provide a defenses against the impacts of poverty on our neighbours and communities. This system acts like the flood defenses and can prevent future and further damage. But it does not repair the damage wrought by previous breaches. Nor does it help these households and communities settle on higher ground. We start by protecting but we should not stop there. Everyone deserves to be able to feel secure and to be able to define what that security looks like.
Behind hungry children are hungry parents. We know that typically parents feed their children before they feed themselves in the UK. We also know that households that are most likely to be food insecure tend to live in areas where others are also struggling. While enough money to purchase food is important, it isn’t enough. We need solutions that address the immediate need but also solutions that work toward a longer term, socially just resilience.
I was recently invited to participate in a webinar on children’s food insecurity. It was attended by more than 300 people from across industry, policy, community, health, and academic sectors. It was organised by Bernadette Moore and Charlotte Evans of the N8 Food Systems Policy Hub.
One of the questions that I frequently get from local food networks and local authorities is “how do we map what already exists in our community?” Organisations also ask how what they do maps onto the food ladders approach. These are questions that I have been exploring recently, as in theory it seems straight forward, but in practice it can be much more difficult. To this end I have developed a workshop on how to map food activity in communities onto the Food Ladders framework. It takes a blended learning approach, starting with self-directed online learning, followed by a group activity that involves discussing and agreeing how activity maps onto the ladders within individual organisations. There is also a form tool that can be adapted for collecting the relevant data needed for this mapping. While the examples in this workshop are third sector organisations, any form of activity can be mapped onto the ladders.
Last week I participated in a webinar for a group of people who are concerned about healthy and sustainable food. The podcast focused on food insecurity. Participants in the webinar included Barbara Bray, Mark Driscoll and Jacqui Green, who have founded the group, as well as Tom Amery, MD of The Watercress Company and Ben Thomas, Environment Manager from Waitrose & Partners, and me.
You can watch the facebook live recording of the webinar below, but it was also broadcast live on Linked In and will be available from the Beanstalk Global web page soon. There is a bit of natter at the start of the broadcast which is not really related to the webinar, which starts at about 2 minutes in.
In the spring and summer of 2020 I interviewed some of Sheffield’s local food businesses to see how they coped in lockdown. What I found was agility and inventiveness and collaboration, but also care for the food that is provided, for the people who eat that food, and for the local place. What is clear from these interviews, when taken together, is that in emergency situations we need a local supply chain with people working in the food sector that are embedded in the community if we are going to strengthen and build resilience.
In this post I share the video interviews with Our Cow Molly, a local dairy producer, Food Works a social enterprise that works with surplus food, and Regather Coop.
You can find all three video interviews on the University of Sheffield Institute for Sustainable Food here.