In this blog, Cobi Akinrele suggests that it is the imagining of poverty as something which affects ‘others’, that has contributed to much of the inertia to food justice in Britain.
“Feed the World! Let them know it’s Christmas again”. These are the famous Band Aid lyrics that intended to touch the hearts of people in affluent countries across the world to pay attention and fight world hunger. Inspired by the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure hoped their efforts would draw attention to the extreme poverty in many parts of the global South. Decades later, could the same song be written about Britain? Early last year, Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford used his experience of free school meals to spark a debate and campaign on the challenges of rising child food poverty in the United Kingdom. When we think of hunger, inadequate access to food, and poverty, it is easy to evoke an image of a helpless child somewhere in the global South. We need to start having real conversations about food equality in Britain, and for this to happen we must first acknowledge that the problem and solution are our doorsteps.
What is food inequality and what can we do about it?
Poverty, when it comes to food, refers to the lack or difficulty in accessing healthy affordable food. Access in this context is a lack of understanding of what constitutes healthy food, limited transport link to shops that sell fruit and vegetables, or a low income. Already we can see that this form of poverty will affect those already experiencing other forms of social and economic vulnerabilities in the UK.
Underpinning the idea that something ought to be done about food inequality in our communities is the general assumption that access to food is a basic human right. But who is responsible for ensuring this right is upheld?
While charities and food banks across the UK offer short term solutions through the distribution of emergency food packages, their act of kindness does not compel others to look out for the wellbeing of others. It is this very issue that opens the door for a new way to envision food equality.
A new way to envision food equality
Our key message is: we have plenty and you are welcome to share it with us, and not we see you; as someone who is needy and therefore we are going to put food in your fridge.
A community approach to food equality might be what is needed to uphold the universal right to food. Here, food is a tool to build, nurture, and grow local communities as opposed to accentuating the line between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Starting as a ‘pay-as-you feel’ community canteen, The Long Table is an example of such approaches to food equality in the UK.
In the beginning, The Long Table was literally a long table in a warehouse where surplus food from local producers was cooked as served for lunch and evening banquet – a place where everyone could come together and have a long table. Some people paid for the meals, others ate for free, and a few paid for others to dine. Whether one could afford to partake in these events was not important. Instead, at the heart of the Long Table was the platform food provided to bring people together.
Of course, as the pandemic became rife in Britain and community canteens nationwide were forced to close, the community hub had to redesign its approach to food-led community building. This moment birthed the Long Table’s ‘Freezers of Love’, a network food distribution hubs equipped with freezers and microwaves across Gloucestershire. Again where some paid for their frozen meals, ate for free, or paid for others.
More on Freezers of Love
Using the Open Food Network, the Long Table was able to distribute local food, some fresh, but most frozen using the same ‘pay as you feel’ scale adopted when communities could meet in person. Ensuring ‘Freezers of Love’ – now available online – gave further flexibility to how food can be distributed and shared. Now people could order, arrange to pick up meals, and even make donations in their homes.
Under this scheme, the Long Table distributed 48,000 meals across the county in 2020.
It may be easy to assume that Freezers of Love are a replica of existing Food Banks that exist across the Country. In some sense, this could be the case – those who are in need of food can access food through the food hub. Still, a key feature that cannot be underestimated is the place and space for people to gather and share, regardless of their income or background, be it in person or online. This, I argue, is the start of realising a Britain where food inequality is a thing of the past.