From Guest Blogger, Irena Forbes
What did you eat today? Did you eat because you were hungry? Bored? Happy? A festive birthday moment? Can you imagine not being able to eat when you wanted to? To not have the dignity to choose? Food should not be a luxury. It should be a right.
On October 16th World Food Day there was a powerful session called ‘Good Food For All: Exploring how the right to food can shape our policies and organizations’ put on by the Vancouver Food Policy Council. It was an information-packed two hours that has given us seven pages of useful notes… but for now – we will mention only a few ideas.
First of all – like any good event – they offered snacks. Now, this wasn’t any old snack. It was a snack that would be typical for someone with food insecurity, who has trouble accessing food. The snack was peanut butter sandwiches. These were sandwiches with very little peanut butter and very dry bread. It really put things into perspective. We heard grumblings about needing water and how ‘interesting’ the food was. It was distracting from the lecture. How can children in school concentrate with a similar lunch… if they are lucky? Now imagine if you did not have access to safe water? This is not uncommon for people with poor living situations – even in Canada.
The effects of poverty were discussed and shared by the personal experience of a courageous man named Fraser Steward early in the evening. He was clear and correct that the food bank is not just for people who live on welfare, it is also for people on pensions, and for the working poor. There are barriers to accessing food with the current system – including 3 hour line ups. And when a person finally has food – what next? How does one cook it? Not having access to cooking facilities is not uncommon. This includes being unable to leave food in a communal fridge because it will disappear! Food also has a lot of social components. Being unable to offer a friend tea in the single occupancy room of 8ft by 10ft can severely affect friendships, and therefore one’s social support system. Fraser Steward was clear that in his mind – charity will not eliminate poverty.
Nick Saul, from Community Food Centres Canada, had many great comments about how a lack of good food can affect people. (He also had many comments about policy, but that will be for another time). Saul spoke about how food banks are given heavily laden fat, sugar and salt foods to be handed out to their clients. This creates an even greater disparity by increasing the chances of diet related illness, such as heart disease and diabetes. In short, Nick reminds us that food banks are sometimes ‘the garburator of the industrial system’.
The main message was that charity is not the answer. People enjoy earning their food, and food is a right. A system change is required that provides people good healthy food, accessed with dignity. In short – food security or “Good Food For All” is necessary.