Firstly I am not a fan of attacking others on the left, god knows there are enough right wing austerity nuts lining up to attack anyone who dares to dream of alternative ways living.
However after reading Suzanne Moore’s blog today in the Guardian ‘Food is now the ultimate class signifier’, I felt compelled to add my view. I agree that food stamps are damaging. I have heard they can only be spent in approved government suppliers like Tesco, Sainsbury’s or other homogenous corporations, not your independent corner shop or local veg box scheme. And yes as a nation we’re becoming more interested in baking bread and cooking from scratch, especially in the aftermath of the horse food scandal people are starting to want accountability in the food chain and to develop a better understanding of where our food comes from.
However what is very clear is that with every passing year we are stuck with this government the gap between the rich and the poor becomes wider. And Suzanne is right food probably is the ultimate class signifier. I know this as I am sitting in a Hackney café drinking my £3.50 pear, apple, ginger, lemon fruit juice. No joke! And I am not kidding myself I know places like this are not the solution for people struggling to feed their family with healthy tasty food.
This government continues to strip away choice in almost all aspects of life and I can see why people struggling and feel like they have no food choice. You don’t see government funded adverts telling people to support local retailers or to head to a website which will direct you to your nearest co-operative food growing scheme. Instead we’re fed a diet of advertising that tells us to rush to our nearest Tesco’s and shove Pringles down our neck. ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop’.
In her article Suzanne points out that choice and eating seasonally costs. Sorry Suzanne but this is what the government want you say, they want us to think we have no choice and keep us at the mercy of big business, giving them our money in exchange for packaged junk.
Visibility costs and for businesses to gain that invariably they have to charge a certain price for their produce especially in London. This food visibility and access is the problem. I am lucky to live in Hackney and have access to lots of locally grown vegetables from veg schemes. For a veg box of £10 I can feed myself for 5 days. Yes I have to be a bit creative and yes sometimes I have to eat cabbage but it doesn’t break the bank.
If you’re unable to afford this some schemes offer free food in return for volunteering with the growing. Not only does this give people a hobby and new skills, it is also a great way to meet new friends and reconnect people with the food they eat.
Now for the big elephant in the room MEAT! I just searched the cheapest chicken fillets Tesco offer and they come up at £3.79. No wonder people can’t afford to eat if they are paying nearly £4.00 for the cheapest genetically modified product. Once you start adding Tesco’s packaging saturated vegetables and a sauce of some kind you’re staring at £10.00 just for dinner.
As Food Banks continue to open at an alarming rate we need to address food poverty in the UK. Food stamps are definitely not the solution they limit choice and must surely create a feeling of low morale in those who receive them.
What we need are for the government to really support the local food growing solutions that are happening all across the country. Instead of sending the unemployed off to Pound land for a spell of slave labour, why not help train a new army of chefs that specialise in seasonal food? Or reclaim land and create community food growing co-ops? After all we live on a planet with finite resources, the solutions exist but the government just don’t want the majority to look in the right place.
Eating local food from scratch has been giving the marketing treatment and is viewed by many as something for the elite. But the actually this couldn’t be further from the truth, our great grandparents would be horrified to think that we are so deprived of basic food skills. I dream of everyone getting back to growing our own food, making bread, making chutneys and preserving food. These are skills passed on from generation to generation they don’t belong to Nigella or any of the celebrity chefs they belong to us all.
These are a few projects that give me hope for the future of food and more broadly the planet.
The Secret Seed Society) Teaching young children about food growing through story telling.
The New Dawn Traders) Inspiring a new generation of sail cargo ships to wean our shipping industry off fossil fuels
Foodcycle) Turning food waste into delicious affordable meals and creating volunteering and retraining opportunities for people in the community.
Growing Communities) A Hackney based local affordable food growing co-op
Made in Hackney) Workshops teaching Londoners a sustainable food future
Get Growing) Working with children and adults teaching them how to grow food using permaculture design and organic methods.