Food glorious food!

Photo by Marie Michelle Bouchard, courtesy of unsplash

I am sure most of you have watched ‘Bake Off’ or a ‘Jamie Oliver’, or an equivalent food programme. They are full of ingredients, glamour, good humour, lots of chat, laughter, and fabulous cooking skills, and what’s produced is off-the-scale sensational and delicious.  The effect of very high numbers of people watching has been known to cause a run on ingredients or implements in supermarkets.

I would like to make a new suggestion: that ingredients are not sourced from a glamorous supermarket, but instead from a Food Bank. That instead of Paul Hollywood or Pru Leith the judges are hungry children about to have what is probably their first and only home-cooked meal of the day, and that the facilities are a basic kitchen with no frills what so ever.

It’s not a new programme idea, but rather what takes place in tens of thousands of kitchens right across the country, and the numbers are fast growing.

It’s humbling to read about the Felix Project in London; featured and actively supported by the London Evening Standard.

The Felix Project marked a major milestone on 16th October last week in London, when it announced it had passed the 13 million mark of meals supplied in the London area since Lockdown.  It’s a staggering achievement for a charity with just 26 staff and 1,135 volunteers.

Last week, the Food Foundation reported an explosion in the number of children registering for free school meals in the wake of Covid-19, with 900,000 pupils signing up for the first time this term, on top of the 1.4 million who are already claiming.

A spokesperson said: “This massive [65 per cent] increase shows the consequences of the Covid crisis. It demonstrates how far-reaching its impact has been, with redundancies, loss of income and furlough affecting millions of parents.”

But this increase did not surprise teachers in London, as an earlier Evening Standard article had reported that more than a third of primary and secondary school teachers in London noticed an increase in numbers of children coming to school hungry during the pandemic:  

This is not just a London phenomenon. Andy Burnham stood up for the workers of Manchester and the North West asking: how can those on minimum wage survive on just two thirds of their meagre wages? It was a stark message which resonated right around all corners of the UK, except in 10 Downing Street.

These are the families who might have fallen into the ‘just about managing’ or JAMs, the designation we heard from the lips of Theresa May in Downing Street back in 2016.  How can people afford to live on two thirds of virtually nothing without falling into destitution and immediate poverty?

Perhaps the only chink of light in all this depression is the campaign by the footballer Marcus Rashford, who shamed this Tory government into extending free school meals provision during the Summer period, but is having a significant battle to persuade them to extend it to half-term breaks and up to Easter 2021.

Ending food poverty for school children is his aim, and we can only hope this campaign is successful but his attempts to persuade an elitist, rich, and entitled government are proving a huge challenge to him.

We all know about the Trussell Trust and their network of food banks, right across the UK.  But there are also other local charities active in food-distribution around the country.

The biggest Trussell Trust food bank is in Newcastle in the North East.  It’s an area which had the highest level of unemployment before the pandemic hit, and with tens of thousands of additional job losses either announced or expected in the coming weeks and months, it will put huge further demands on this food bank. In April they reported a 150% increase in demand.

So, what’s in a typical food parcel? A typical food parcel contains a minimum of three days supply of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable, tinned and dried foods that have been donated by the local community.  A typical food parcel includes: breakfast cereal, soup, pasta, rice, pasta sauce, baked beans, tinned meat, tinned vegetables, instant mash, UHT milk, tea, coffee, sugar, tinned desert and biscuits.  Some food banks also provide fresh produce if they can.

When matches were played at St James Park the food bank had a collection point beside the stadium, and football supporters generously supported it with money and food donations.  This regular source has now stopped, but the food bank has managed to carry on through huge support from the community and businesses around Newcastle.

A very novel and welcome source of recent funding has come from football fans who have boycotted very expensive Pay-Tv subscriptions, and donated an estimated £19,000 to the food bank.

But this food bank, like all others throughout the UK, is likely to see a new surge in demand as furlough ends and new Tier 2 or 3 Lockdowns are announced, causing losses of tens of thousands of jobs.  It’s estimated London could lose 200,000 jobs in ‘hospitality’, and hundreds of thousands more are at risk all round the UK.  So, a huge crisis is developing as we approach Christmas. 

In the House of Commons on 21st October, MPs voted to reject Labour’s motion – which called for free school meals to be offered over school holidays until Easter 2021 – by 322 votes to 261. Not one of the North East Tory MP’s joined their five Tory colleagues from outside the area who supported the Labour motion.

The Newcastle food bank needs regular donations of food, money, or time -volunteers are always needed.

So, what of the “Food, Glorious Food” title of this article?  By all means keep watching these glamorous and entertaining food programmes; but the next time you have even minor hunger pangs, remember there are hundreds of thousands of adults and children who are unable to satisfy that same hunger and will be going to bed or school hungry.

So, what action will you take to help?

Please follow us on social media, subscribe to our newsletter, and/or support us with a regular donation