It is impossible to separate food from politics. On the one hand there’s the impact on families of the continuing cost-of-living-crisis and the need to make every pound stretch further. On the other are controversial decisions over the sourcing and global transportation of much of our food, and the consequent struggle for survival in many sectors of the UK’s farming and fishing industries. According to a recent report from the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC), the quality of what we eat is vitally important to the UK public, with people “hungry for change”. But, with nearly three million using the Trussell Trust’s nationwide network of foodbanks alone over 2022/23, and with shops and supermarkets reporting record levels of shoplifting of food staples, the inescapable fact remains that millions are “hungry for change” simply because they’re hungry. They’re still having to decide between eating or heating as temperatures drop, with parents surviving on the leftovers of their children. Inflation figures are lower, yes, but that does not mean that inflation has gone away.
Millions are still having to decide between eating or heating, with parents surviving on their children’s leftovers
Prices continue to rise, just not so quickly. And those finding it hardest to get by are the ones on the lowest income. Low income is consistently and unarguably linked with poor quality dietary intake. Compared with people on higher income, lower income individuals and families consume fewer fruits and vegetables, more sugar-sweetened drinks, and have lower overall diet quality. Foodbanks don’t boast fine cuisine, it’s mostly cheapest of the range staples, generously donated by those who can still afford to do so. So even if, by some wild stretch of the imagination, Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson is correct when he says meals can be cooked from scratch for 30p a day, they won’t be meals that provide a healthy diet. And eating lower quality, and frequently ultra-processed, food inevitably puts an increasing strain on multiple areas of society and the economy, not the least being on social care provision and a desperately overstretched NHS. Despite the myriad economic and social problems, the UK still ranks as one of the top 20 or so wealthiest nations on the planet, but the division of that wealth continues to starve the poorest.
The current government’s adopted slogan in the run up to the next general election is, “Long-term decisions for a brighter future.” Labour, too, talks of taking decisions for the long-term. Is now, then, the appropriate time to reconsider long-term decisions about our food – not just what and when we eat, but how and from where we source our food in a sustainable way that will ultimately benefit the entire nation, and the planet? Christmas and New Year mean special celebrations for the fortunate: a little over-indulgence with quality food and drinks because it’s party time. For those less fortunate, it just gets tougher.
The FFCC’s National Conversation About Food project makes important points on numerous issues such as health, inequalities, the environment, pollution, sustainability and support for farmers, and reveals that that 75% of the public think the government is “not doing enough” to ensure that everyone can afford healthy food. Recent studies have found that ultra-processed food makes up more than half the average UK diet, with the UK now facing the third highest obesity rate in Europe. FFCC chief executive, Sue Pritchard, said: “Citizens want food to be fairer, healthier, greener – and they want governments and businesses, who have the power and resources, to level the playing field for everyone.”
The cynic would probably argue that it’s just wishful thinking in a world increasingly driven by profits and “growth”. The optimist might counter that change could, and should, be on the menu.
Who do you think is the best able to end food poverty in the UK?
Do you think the government are doing enough to help people out of poverty?