Let Them Eat Cake: COVID and Food Donations

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

COVID-19 has made hunger a reality for many in countries such as the U.S. and U.K., where food insecurity had been limited to the very poor.

Food banks are stretched, as they now must serve many more hungry  people.

Widening hunger has spurred food donations, private, corporate, and public. Yet many of these  – whether wittingly or not – are made in the spirit of Marie Antoinette.

Spaghettios and Pepper Pot Soup: My Childhood Donations to the Children of Bangladesh

Food donations all too often reflect the perceptions and motivations of the donor, and don’t accord with what the recipient wants or needs.

I remember my first experience with food donations, when my Brownie – junior Girl Scout troop collected tinned food for the children of Bangladesh. Ahat crisis led to us why we were collecting food for Bangladesh? Was it at the time of the concert for Bangladesh – 1971 – to raise money for in the wake of the Bangladesh Liberation War? No, that wasn’t it, because by then I was ten and too old for the Brownies. I think it was in the wake of he Bhola cyclone in 1970, when a half million people died.  The early ‘70s were not a happy time in Bangladesh.

After returning home from out collecting efforts, my mother asked me what I wanted to donate. That was easy: spaghettios. I hated spaghettios, perhaps due to my general and continued dislike of many mushy foods – still can’t eat muesli, cold breakfast cereal, or oatmeal. Spaghettios for those not familiar with this triumph of American food processing are the ultimate mushy food: tinned, ready to eat pasta rounds! It was my pleading – no doubt influenced by the catchy advertising jingle – that had led Mom to buy some spaghettios in the first place. So I was responsible for introducing this mushiness into our household.

My mother knew that I didn’t like them, but said nothing as she tossed the tin into the collection box we’d assembled. I think it may have been my attempt to atone for my guilt at giving something away that I didn’t really like very much that made me pick up a tin of Campbell’s Pepper Pot soup, then my favorite, and place that in the box as well. Only years later did I realize this Campbell’s product was a bastardized version of flaczki, Polish tripe soup.

My intentions in donating the soup were pure: I wanted to share something I enjoyed with some hungry child on the other side of the globe.

Alas, I didn’t know that Pepper Pot soup, with its tiny bits of tripe, would be far less palatable to the intended recipient than my loathed spaghettios. Whereas I merely didn’t fancy those, a Bengali child, if Hindu, couldn’t eat the tripe if it came from a cow, and a Muslim child had the same problem with anything that originated with a pig. My well-intended gift was unlikely to trigger anything as extreme as a similar gaffe by the British in 1857, but still.

Despite my intentions, my food donations were a bust.

Leite’s Culinaria’s Recommendations for Food Donations

I suppose I beat up on myself too severely: I wasn’t yet 10 years old when these events occurred. Yes, it was wrong to use this food drive as a means to get rid of some food that I hated; But I did know I did wrong, and attempted to make some amends, by giving up something I liked.

Which brings me now to one of the other things that inspired this post – my thoughts on a list compiled by the food and recipe website Leite’s Culinaria, Food Pantries Need Donations Now More Than Ever. As I thought about that list, I realized that the adults involved in compiling the list – writer, editor(s), didn’t do that much better than my childhood self in drafting a list that suited what the recipients may have wanted – or chosen – for themselves. Their list reflects an embedded sense that those who rely on food banks are other than the audience for their food blog.

Let me explain. I think you can guess at the type of readership anything that calls itself a ‘culinaria’  aspires to. Yet despite the pompous name, I like the site and visit it often for its reliable recipes. Founder David Leite is of Portuguese origin, and his Portuguese orange olive oil cake is a real winner, particularly if you up the amount of orange zest in the recipe; it can be dressed up with a bitter chocolate glaze – made by melting some bitter chocolate and thinning it with heavy cream. It’s a good cake to make for couples or small households, as it lasts for weeks without going stale. The cake is so scrumptious I bought his book, The New Portuguese Cookbook – something I often do when I find a recipe I like, to send some small compensation to the source of my pleasure.

Without further ado, the list:

Pasta
Pasta sauce
Oatmeal
Rice
Ramen (or, if it aligns more with your vibe, whole-grain pasta)
Beans
Canned tuna or chicken
Crackers
Hot sauce and other condiments
Salt, pepper, and spices
Mayonnaise
Coffee and tea
Olive oil
Shelf-stable dairy
Boxed brownie or cake mix
Canned frosting
Chocolate bars

Now a couple things jumped at me, especially after I reread after I reread the accompanying text:

Pretty much anything nonperishable is welcome. Also consider the items that nonperishable packaged products require to be cooked, such as olive oil, salt, and pepper. Another thing that’s high on the list of most-coveted items is shelf-stable dairy alternatives, including oat, soy, rice, and almond milk, as well as powdered or evaporated milk. These are essential to go with all those donated boxes of breakfast cereal.

Also think beyond the essentials to things that can elevate the basics to something more satisfying. Olive oil. Spices. Hot sauce or condiments. Even a bar of chocolate, though not a necessity, can be a truly needed godsend. And a boxed brownie or cake mix and a can of frosting that needs only water may be the only means to a child having something special on a birthday.

Notice anything, particularly if I mention again that this is a food and recipe website – and not one in the style of Sandra Lee? (For those who don’t know her work, Lee pioneered the concept of semi-homemade cooking, which she describes as mixing together 70% processed foods and 30% of fresh items. Needless to say, this not a book I would buy).

In the Leite’s Culinary list, there’s also an emphasis on convenience foods – brownie and cake mixes, canned frosting and a lack of the raw materials people need to make real food: flour, sweeteners (e.g., sugar, honey, maple syrup, jams and preserves), vinegar.  Many categories are attenuated,: oatmeal, but no other grains? What about snacks other than crackers? Cookies? Even better,  dried fruit and nuts? And beverages – even allowing that food banks likely cannot accept booze donations, no matter how much their clientele might wish otherwise – canned juice, seltzer, soda, gatorade?. I’ve only devoted minutes to gaps in the list – I’m sure readers will flag other gaps in comments.

For many, their newfound dependence on food banks now is neither jaunt nor holiday, and will only get worse unless Washington gets serious about heading off what looks to be a forthcoming evictions crisis. It appears to me that the author of this list unconsciously regards those who now rely on food banks as comprising a completely different group of people than the website’s audience – few of whom would take well to being told to tear open a cake mix.

If you think I’m being too harsh,  the words of author Jenny Latrielle make clear the distance she sees exist between herself and denizens of food banks:

Chances are pretty good that those of us who rely on the recipes from this site experience hunger in a rather privileged way. And by that, we mean simply what we have the means to remedy the situation at will. Our biggest challenge, if anything, tends to be deciding what to make for dinner.

Far be it for at least some of those who rely on food banks to want – and need – the same foodstuffs in their pantries, cabinets, and fridges as those who “experience hunger in a rather privileged way”. Whatever that means. Either one is hungry, or one’s not. I think she’s trying to say that readers of Leite’s Culinaria wesite are privileged not to experience hunger at all. Because I’m scratching my head at what it might mean to experience hunger in a rather privileged way. I don’t think there’s anything privileged about being hungry.

Marcus Rashford Scores for England

Which brings me to the third topic I wanted to discuss: Marcus Rashford’s successful campaign to force Boris Johnson to revamp its child hunger policy.

Our U.K. readers will be well familiar with this story. Those from elsewhere, less so.

First, who is Marcus Rashford?

He’s the Manchester United star striker and England international who forced the government to make a major policy change on its food policy, implementing a less Scroogian approach to child hunger and food poverty. Rashford’s actions earned him an MBE last year. But he has not rested on his laurels and has kept on the child hunger case, again making headlines just yesterday.

As the FT tells the story in Marcus Rashford: ‘The system is broken — and it needs to change, part of its Lunch with the FT series:

Rashford has emerged as one of the unlikely, unifying heroes of the pandemic in the UK. This summer, he launched a food poverty campaign so effective that it forced a policy U-turn from Boris Johnson, who, as per Rashford’s wishes, allocated £120m to pay for meals for impoverished children across the country. It was a stunning show of player power that Rashford repeatedly refers to as “mad”. Our lunch follows a morning spent filming a documentary across London to promote his campaign. In the afternoon, Rashford has a meeting with chief executives of major businesses to seek further support for his goals.

Rashford has not forgotten what it was like to grow up in a household where food was in short supply:

He appreciates, probably more than most Lunchers with the FT, the lavish meal we order. Rashford is the youngest of five siblings from a single-parent household in Wythenshawe, a working-class district in the south of Manchester. His mother Melanie worked in minimum-wage jobs but sometimes found it was not enough to feed the family. They occasionally visited local food banks and soup kitchens. At school, he relied on state-funded free breakfasts and lunches given to underprivileged kids. Better-off classmates helped to supplement those meals.

“I remember certain things from their packed lunches that I used to like,” he says of one childhood friend. “I don’t know why it sticks with me. It was always those little Milky Way yoghurts, I remember always asking his parents to put in one extra one, so at lunchtime, I could steal one off him.”

Note the age at which Rashford was talent-spotted, setting him on the path to Manchester United and earning caps for England:

Rashford was six and already a prodigious goalscoring talent for a local team, when he was spotted by a Manchester United scout. His mother convinced the club to accept him on to its training programme aged 10, a year earlier than most children. She argued his nutritional needs were better served by boarding at the club’s lodgings for talented youngsters. He went on to become the latest academy graduate to don the club’s famous red shirt. At 18, he scored on his debut for the senior team and would become the youngest player to score on debut for the England national side.

The pandemic was the first time in a long while that Rashford had time to reflect in depth about something other than football. What did he think about? Well, just how many kids would go hungry because with UK schools shut, they wouldn’t gets school-provided lunch? The FT has some stab at an answer: 1.3. million currently qualify for free school meals in England.

Rashford first worked with the FairShare charity, helping raise 2 million pounds to distribute 3 million meals to hungry people throughout the country.

And then he went large. Per the FT:

Rashford reckons his back-story provided the moral standing required to gain wider public support. “When it’s someone that’s been through it, people connect straight away because they know that it’s genuine,” he says. After the footballer’s idea received bipartisan support from MPs, Johnson extended the free school meals programme across the summer break.

Rashford now finds himself at the centre of a campaign against child poverty that has broadened it demands. Yet he seems far more than a mere  a figurehead, but engages with details – such as what exactly is going into those food boxes that are being distributed to hungry children.  From yesterday’s Guardian, Rashford: something ‘going wrong’ with free school meal deliveries:

Marcus Rashford has warned that “something is going wrong” with free school meal delivery during lockdown after he held talks with the school catering company at the centre of a row over inadequate free school meal (FSM) parcels.

The Manchester United footballer earlier condemned some of the free school meal packages being sent to children and families learning from home as “unacceptable” after parents posted photos on Twitter.

….

… the England international raised concerns about the amount of food being made available to the most vulnerable children, and called for independent businesses to mobilise to help distribute parcels.

“FSM Hampers are currently distributed to provide 10 lunch meals per child across 2 week,” the footballer posted. “This concerns me firstly as I relied on breakfast club, FSM and after-school clubs. Is 1 meal a day from Mon-Fri sufficient for children most vulnerable?”

He also condemned the lack of communication with suppliers ahead of the third national lockdown: “We MUST do better. Children shouldn’t be going hungry on the basis that we aren’t communicating or being transparent with plans. That is unacceptable.”

He concluded by tweeting: “I have a game today so have to log off but I wanted to update you on the conversation and I look forward to hearing the outcome of the DfE meeting today. @Chartwells_UK @educationgovuk.

“Something is going wrong and we need to fix it, quickly!”

Somewhat embarrassingly, one of the companies that’s part of Rashford’s child poverty campaign is the source of the skimpy food parcels:

Last month Chartwells, which is part of the giant Compass UK group, tweeted: “We are proud to be the first school caterer to join Child Food Poverty Taskforce formed by @MarcusRashford”. Its managing director, Charlie Brown, added: “Marcus Rashford’s campaign shines a much-needed spotlight on the issue of child food poverty.”

Food parcels have been sent to children who would normally qualify for free school meals and are now learning remotely during the national lockdown.

One tweet showed a package, supposedly containing the equivalent of £30 worth of food to last for 10 days, comprising just a loaf of bread, some cheese, a tin of beans, two carrots, two bananas, three apples, two potatoes, a bag of pasta, three Frubes, two Soreen bars and a tomato.

Rashford is not letting the company off the hook. He tweeted:

The UK political response has been pointed and quick. Over to the Guardian:

The children’s minister, Vicky Ford, said on Tuesday evening: “The photos being shared on social media today are completely unacceptable and do not reflect the high standard of free school meals we expect to be sent to children.

“Chartwells has rightly apologised and admitted the parcel in question was not good enough. I met their managing director earlier today and he has assured me they have taken immediate action to stop further deliveries of poor-quality parcels. They will ensure schools affected are compensated and they will provide additional food to the eligible child in line with our increased funding.”

Keir Starmer described the situation as “a disgrace”. The Labour leader tweeted: “The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace. Where is the money going? This needs sorting immediately so families don’t go hungry through lockdown.”

What about those government guidelines? I noticed they don’t rely on convenience foods. Over to the Guardian again:

The government guidelines urge schools to work with their catering teams or food provider to provide parcels to eligible pupils who are learning from home.

The guidelines state that the packages should contain food items as opposed to pre-prepared meals so parents can make healthy lunches for their children. It adds that the hampers should not rely on parents having additional ingredients at home and should cater for pupils of all diets.

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32 comments

  1. The Rev Kev

    Societies should by design make certain that their own children get fed. You don’t get more fundamental a duty than that. But here it is not because there are not the resources or the knowledge or any of that. It is because the elites in the UK like Boris can’t be a***ed about it. I read how this played out in the UK two generations ago in a book by William L. Shirer. He was an American news correspondent in Berlin before America’s entry to the war and covered the first days of the war. He reported that he saw British soldier captured by German soldiers being marched along a road and the contrast was stark. The German guys were hale and healthy with deep suntans as Germany encouraged their young physically such as the ‘Strength Through Joy’ movement. The British guys on the other hand were skinnier, pale and hollow-chested which was a sign how their government had totally neglected them in the pre-war years and I have always been impressed by that image. Same here. Once again the UK governments/elites cannot be bothered taking care of those in need and people like Marcus Rashford remembered what it was like and are now in a position to hold them to account.

    Reply
    1. vlade

      True, but let’s not forget the real reason behind why Germans were better fed – German elite at the time knew it’ll need an army. Which has to be both well fed and loayal, and was being built for quite some time (openly at least since Rhineland remilitarization)

      The UK, on the other hand, resisted any military spending increase until the last moment. The conscription act wasn’t passed until the war started, and phony war ended less than a year from then..

      That’s not to say the UK did care much about the then-deplorables, but to put the Germany into perspective.

      You’d make a similar observation aboutt he USSR, where an unknown number of Ukrainians, but still in millions, were starved to death by artificial famine, which had political implications all the way to today.

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        It goes back to WWI when the British government was horrified to discover that many recruits were unable to pass one of the basic tests – being able to lift a Lee Enfield rifle over their heads. This was the start of school meal programs in Britain, so far as I know.

        The problem was deeper than just poverty. I’ve seen studies that indicate that the first generation of industrial revolution working classes were actually generally strong and robust and unless you were at the very bottom of the heap, well fed. Irish peasants of the 18th and 19th Century were famously healthy and strong. For urban dwellers, there was something of a ‘food golden age’ between the opening up of internal trade with the canals and railways, which meant that food no longer had to be entirely local and seasonal, and the growth of the food processing industry around the 1880’s. It was the latter that destroyed the poors health, as foods like grain and potato gruels with what would now be considered hipster breads gave way to canned and preserved foods and over processed grains. Industrial overfishing also meant that the main healthy form of protein for the poor in many cities – shellfish and fish – gave way to beef and pork.

        At various times in history – such as 18th Century Britain and Ireland – it was the poor who had good healthy diets, while the rich suffered terribly with illnesses caused by ‘luxury’ foods like pastries made from imported cane sugar and refined grains. Arguably the first modern scientific treatise on diet was written by Jonathan Swift (of Gullivers Travel fame), who noted exactly this phenomenon among his patients.

        Reply
      2. The Rev Kev

        Just an extra data point. When WW1 broke out, the British organized an expeditionary force to go fight the Germans in Belgium. Of course they had to weed out those soldiers who were not physically up to the challenge and there were so many, that they had to strip the Regimental depots of the the UK to make up the numbers of fit recruits to send.

        Having said that, the British had learned the importance of trained riflemen during the debacle of the Boer war and had invested accordingly into rifle training. So though their numbers were relatively few, the Germans found that British rifle-fire was extremely deadly in combat. The lesson is of course that if you invest in your people, that it will pay all sorts of dividends down the track.

        Reply
  2. JBird4049

    One tweet showed a package, supposedly containing the equivalent of £30 worth of food to last for 10 days, comprising just a loaf of bread, some cheese, a tin of beans, two carrots, two bananas, three apples, two potatoes, a bag of pasta, three Frubes, two Soreen bars and a tomato.

    This is supposed to feed a child for ten days? It would barely feed a small rat. But perhaps that is what some people do think about the poor.

    Depending on the cheese, I could get an American equivalent for $15 or less. For $40 or less, I could probably make a very large pot of spaghetti with ground meat with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, tomato sauce and fresh garlic. I would just have to hope that I had more seasonings in my kitchen. It could probably feed me for a week although I would be on the edge of hunger and have to be very careful in my portions. And little physical activity which a child would want to do.

    What gets me (besides the miserable amount of food) is the lack of real protein in the supply; the lack of anything like eggs, fish, poultry, or meat would make a person really hungry even if you quadrupled the amount of food. Any solid protein, even just two can of tuna added, would likely work. Hell, a pack of beef jerky would do. One would feel oddly empty otherwise as an adult and the ability to focus and think would decrease. A child would always be hungry and distracted. That is what is so important in my hypothetical pot of spaghetti. Real meat. Even cheap hamburger.

    Just WTF are they thinking? They must hate children.

    Of course, in most of the States, we are effectively told to go starve as the first and last thing cut is SNAP (food stamps). Somehow, all the poors are ripping off the program wholesale as if that lousy $16(!) to $196 in an EBT card is serious cash money. If you think otherwise, go ahead and do some reading. Really, there is not much difference between the two countries.

    Sixteen stupendous bleeping dollars a month… and for which I have to recertify eligibility twice a year.

    Reply
    1. Tom Doak

      And part of the design of SNAP is that you have to pay retail for everything, and let the store and all the middlemen get their cut of it.

      I always wonder how food banks claim they can feed people for $1 or $2 a day, but you certainly could if you paid for it direct from the source!

      P.S. Good for Marcus Rashford for “holding their feet to the fire”. Not as easily co-opted as LeBron James was.

      Reply
    2. PlutoniumKun

      I’m amazed those photos haven’t caused riots in Britain (well, I’m not really, I’ve become too cynical). The government has blown £23billion pounds by throwing money at their buddies for a track and trace Covid scheme that doesn’t work, and then they allow a food for the poor scheme to be a get rich quick scam for more Tory donors. And yet if there was an election tomorrow, it would be a close run thing. It really is unbelievable.

      Reply
      1. vlade

        The looting of the UK in the last year was worse then ever, and that’s something to say. The previous PMs at least wanted it under the wraps, but it looks like Johnson’s not bothered at all, so just about anything goes.

        Labour does its ritualistic stuff, but the inability of BBC or other media in general to really make it into a scandal tells you a few things (amongs them, how afraid BBC is of the current govt).

        Reply
      2. David

        I’m tempted to say stupidity and ignorance as well: the English diet has long been a source of stupefaction to other nations, and when I think of what I was given to eat as a child (sandwiches of processed white bread with margarine and sugar inside) I’m amazed I made it to adult life. Outside the PMC, the situation actually isn’t any better, and in certain areas may be worse. The transformation of children into little consumers, choosing what they want to eat, hasn’t helped either. The level of basic knowledge of nutrition in the UK is abysmal.

        Mind you, it’s not always better elsewhere. In France, of all places, it’s getting a lot worse, and there are real problems of obesity and diabetes caused by poor diet. Vastly more women work than was the case thirty years ago (and virtually all single mothers do) and only a small proportion of families in the big cities eat fresh food every day. Pizza and frozen hamburgers for dinner are quite normal. Moreover, some right-wing departments have closed school kitchens and now serve reheated industrial food instead. A typical meal I once enjoyed (?) would be crispy chicken legs and chips with sweetened yoghurt and an apple.

        Reply
        1. Massinissa

          “(sandwiches of processed white bread with margarine and sugar inside)”

          I did not even realize there were places that put sugar inside sandwiches. I can’t recall I’ve ever seen sugar inside any kind of sandwich here in the US.

          “In France, of all places, it’s getting a lot worse, and there are real problems of obesity and diabetes caused by poor diet. ”

          I’ve heard that many traditional French foods, such as Baguettes, are becoming much less popular, largely due to increased prevalence of less healthy but more addictive US style foods.

          Reply
  3. John Zelnicker

    Jerri-Lynn – Your confusion over the term “privileged” hunger is understandable.

    However, I think it’s a matter of two different definitions. I’m quite hungry right now, got that empty pit in my stomach. Sometimes I’m working so much without a break that it can hurt. But, I’m privileged in that I can get up at any time and choose from a wide choice of foods. Regardless, it is a Marie Antoinette kind of attitude.

    This is very different from the deep hunger that comes from never being able to fill one’s stomach. IIRC, that can cause the stomach to shrink making it more difficult to get adequate nutrition. I believe it also can change the gut biome causing all kinds of problems with a kid’s health and can harm their ability to develop normally.

    It’s kinda sad that these people are only thinking about 10 lunches over two weeks. Are they expecting families to provide breakfast, dinner, and weekend meals on their own?

    In the US, we have free breakfast and lunch for impoverished kids in public (government run) schools. I’ve heard there are efforts to get these meals to kids who are in remote learning and not coming to the school campus, but I don’t know how effective they are.

    On the other hand, if kids are qualifying for free meals at school, it’s very unlikely that they have computers or internet connections for remote learning, so they’re forced to go to the campus with all the risks that entails.

    It’s just a helluva problem with no easy answers.

    Reply
    1. dommage

      On “privileged” hunger. Daumier “Les Gens de Justice #15
      The magistrate leaning back, hands clasped over stomach, to the prisoner dressed in rags: …you were hungry… you were hungry… that’s not a reason… but I’m also hungry every day and that doesn’t make me steal

      Reply
  4. skk

    Thanks for highlighting Marcus Rashford. What is remarkable to me, is how he “just does it”. Rather like Lewis Hamilton. Yes, I was a “jock” too, so I always compare his actions and style versus the “luvvies” ( as Private Eye puts it ) and the politicos efforts for charitable causes.

    Of course I always remember the recalcitrants bordering on unforgiveable super-sports-stars too – George Best, Alex Higgins and Paul Gasgoigne.

    Reply
  5. Adam

    I am fortunate to live in a upper middle class neighborhood outside Chicago but was very surprised to see a significant line of cars waiting at the neighborhood church food pantry during the summer. My friendly neighbors, who are members of this church, told me this had been going on for many months. I had no clue this was happening. Thank you for the article and for me a reminder to make another donation immediately.

    Reply
  6. Crayola

    Last year, an acquaintance matter-of-factly mentioned she hadn’t eaten much of anything for a few days. She’d been looking for work so long that she was broke (couldn’t afford insurance on a scooter, so her work options were things within bike range), and she was planning on just pushing through with an empty pantry. I swung by the grocery and got her a couple bags of staples and morale boosting extras to last a while. I could have probably benefited from the advice here on what to get, though.

    Fortunately, she’s since found work, but it really drove home how much our entire economic system sucks rocks on so many levels.

    Reply
  7. Repulsive

    Nobody should go hungry. It is just perverse. Especially in the food waste world we live in.

    Germany are also facing the same problems: 30% (!!!) of kids in the former coal and steel region in Nordrhein-Westfalen are living in families on Hartz IV – a really harsh treatment for people falling out of jobs etc. They are now preparing to make it even worse now as if Hartz IV have it too good.

    In general in Germany, 20% of kids are living in poor conditions. Every fifth kid!!!

    https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/panorama/armut-reichtum-hunger-corona-ungleichheit-100.html

    https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/panorama/corona-krise-kinder-armut-hartz-4-100.html

    https://www.wsws.org/de/articles/2020/04/02/hung-a02.html

    Reply
  8. PlutoniumKun

    Even as a Liverpool fan, I gotta respect Marcus Rashford, he is doing a lot of good.

    Which of course means he has been subject to disgusting attacks online and in the UK right wing media asking ‘who is behind him?’ as if he couldn’t possibly have come up with these ideas himself. The fact that helping the poorest kids get food is now seen as a left wing cause shows how much the Overton Window has shifted right. Once upon a time, Conservatives saw feeding the poor as simple pragmatism.

    I’m always a little dubious about food banks, as it never makes much sense to me to collect random items of food for handing out, rather than charities/government either buying the food in bulk (vastly more cost effective), or just giving people the money.

    Its also about other forms of support. A few years ago in inner City Dublin there was a project that focused on helping unemployed men with basic home economics. In many poor communities, the women have low paid long hours jobs like as cleaners, while there is little or no work for the men. They found that the kids nutrition was terrible, mostly just processed foods and biscuits bought by their ‘lazy, feckless’ fathers. They set up projects to teach the men how to cook simple nutritious stews and, most importantly, how to shop for the best value ingredients. The enthusiasm of the men was remarkable – it was clear that their former ‘laziness’ was really just a way of covering their own embarrassment at their lack of skills at knowing how to look after the home. When shown how, they proved to be very proud of being able to make cheap, healthy dinners for the kids and ready for their wives when they came home.

    Reply
    1. JBird4049

      On the food banks it depends on what was donated recently in food and money. Fortunately, I haven’t needed to go to my local one for a while. On a particularly good week it might be T-bone steak and fresh vegetables. On a bad week it’s yams and dried seaweed. Literally. You usually can not depend on a food bank. I could only use it to supplement my food. Now, soup kitchens give out real meals although again I have been blessed this year without the need to.

      Now if any of the far more desperate people could just get and keep SNAP EBT cards with more than a pittance in funds. Also, I have a kitchen and know how to cook. Many people don’t have a kitchen, but you cannot buy prepared, especially hot, food. Being able to eat at a sit down restaurant as an individual or an entire family would be a Godsend for them. Or just go to a deli. But the poor might cheat somehow so we can’t have nice things.

      I just realized again that I am a San Francisco Bay Arean in the richest state in the wealthiest country on earth that also produces so much food it’s exported to countries overseas. However, I am opining on local food banks, soup kitchens, and about food stamps. I don’t know, something seems off with this description, somehow.

      Reply
  9. Hayek's Heelbiter

    FYI
    https://metro.co.uk/2021/01/13/boss-behind-free-school-meals-scandal-earned-4700000-last-year-13894223/

    The boss of the company embroiled in the free school meals row was on a £4.7 million salary before the pandemic, it has been revealed. Chief executive of the Compass Group – the parent company of Chartwells, which has provided some of the food parcels on behalf of the Government – Dominic Blakemore apparently earned 280 times more than the company’s dinner ladies. The Guardian reported the 51-year-old’s fixed pay was cut last year to a £1.2 million salary, with no bonuses paid, as a result of the coronavirus crisis. But this was still 54 times more than his median employee salary of £21,000.

    Reply
  10. cocomaan

    Hey JL, great post.

    One thing you said:

    For many, their newfound dependence on food banks now is neither jaunt nor holiday, and will only get worse unless Washington gets serious about heading off what looks to be a forthcoming evictions crisis.

    I want to add to this that if I ate the diet listed there, I would have trouble with cognition. I’m not being dramatic: too many simple carbs and processed food makes my brain work less efficiently. I can feel it. Junk food does something to my ability to think.

    It’s survival food, but I don’t see parents being able to plan for the future or kids being able to learn when they’re experiencing huge blood sugar spikes every time they eat, followed by massive crashes.

    I work in non-profits and one of my organizations, a community center, is partnered with a food bank. I work with the director over there all the time. She’s seen a tremendous surge and is constantly out of food in that rural area. There’s no end in sight.

    Reply
  11. Jeremy Grimm

    Lines of cars at foodbanks are problematic to me. What about the poor who cannot afford a car? Those who can afford a car are relatively well off compared to many of our poor — although I don’t have number to throw out. Foodbank food requires cooking which requires a place to cook and some basic utensils and knowledge. While worrying about foodbanks we also need to worry about soup kitchens, bread lines, perhaps even potable water.

    Weren’t most of the food programs started as ways to subsidize farmers … and provide food to those who could not buy it. Now it seems a lot of farm subsidy programs take the form of Government buying and dumping milk, paying farmers not to grow produce, or paying farmers to grow corn to turn into ethanol to add to gasoline or to grow soybeans for export. I get the impression Big Ag has managed to turn farm subsidies into subsidies for Big Ag profits while leaving programs like SNAP to bolster profits at supermarkets and Walmart. Feeding the hungry seems a side issue with considerable concern spent worrying whether the poor deserve to eat.

    Of course what goes in must come out. While worrying about food how about giving a little concern to digging public latrines for our Boma Camps. Maybe come up with a few Federal Camps like Steinbeck describes in “Grapes of Wrath” — but skip the rent collection.

    Reply
    1. No it was not, apparently

      “What about the poor who cannot afford a car?”

      “Foodbank food requires cooking which requires a place to cook and some basic utensils and knowledge.”

      Exactly. Thank you, Jeremy, for pointing this out so clearly.

      It should be noted that food that requires preparation is considered to be a form of “raw material,” not usable product, by our local experts; as such it is a curious form of help, when it is dumped on unsuspecting poor people, without making sure they can prepare it first.

      The insanity of expecting recipients of food-help to own and operate vehicles themselves appears to me as something out of the Twilight Zone TV series.

      ————————————————————————

      Of course, what it all comes down is the toxic ideology of “middle class,” the class everyone is supposed to be part of, therefore, everyone is supposed to have access to the same set of material goods/circumstances.

      So, suddenly, poor people have full scale apartments, houses even, with kitchens naturally, once one believes that, the expectation of car ownership comes naturally.

      Ah, neo-liberalism, the greatest right wing fantasy to come to plague left-wing folks ever. We really must get over it.

      Reply
  12. Rachel

    Feeding the hungry is commendable, but charity starts at home: With the arrival of the new virus variant and further lockdowns ahead, everyone should make sure that their OWN larder is well stocked, not just for their family, neighbors, but to assist older people who cannot shop.

    There are shortages of everything from semiconductors which have shut down car assembly plants, to masks, toilet paper and non-perishables in all the places we shop. Strangely, there’s a glut of milk?

    Anyone who does not take this opportunity to purchase what they must have for the next six months is foolish and will regret it.

    Reply
    1. JBird4049

      Which is good to suggest, but tens of millions do not have the actual cash to buy food, or a place to prepare it, or both. It’s like saying that one should always have six months living expenses saved when most Americans don’t have even have five hundred dollars readily available for any reason or to follow the rule of thumb of ¼ or 1/3 of income for rent when most people must spend more than half for any housing of any quality. The sheer lack of resources that many people have prevents creating larders for a family never mind one’s neighbors.

      Reply
  13. No it was not, apparently

    Hey, I wanted to add a few points to the conversation, first things first, I’ll assume that 30 Pounds equals 30 Euros (or 30 Dollars for that matter), so you may want to correct me regarding the actual food prices; moving on, I want to show you what 30 Euros can buy:

    Based on a approx 8000 kJoules (bit less than 2000 kcal) daily energy needs the options are:

    – 2x 1.5 litre Coca Cola bottles for a total of 5600 kj for 1 EUR

    – 3x 130g salted snacks bag for for a total of 7800 kj for 1.2 EUR

    – 4x 100g chocolate bar for a total of 8000 kj for 2 EUR

    -1x 500g chocolate cookie package for a total of 10000 kj for 0.9 EUR

    …etc

    While I could list the foods and prices with exact names, calorie content, and prices in a long list, the take-away point is that the average price of calories per day is about 1.5 EUR – 2.5 EUR, if one wants to balance different tastes (and therefore not go crazy) and avoid eating the exact lowest cost option all the time.

    This leads to 45 EUR – 75 EUR monthly calorie budget.

    Regarding mineral/vitamin/etc. foods the options are:

    – 1 kg of tomatoes for 1.5 EUR

    – 250g of canned tomatoes for 0.4 EUR

    – 330g jar of pickles for 0.75 EUR

    – 330g jar of mixed salads for 1 EUR

    – 200g can of tuna for 1.5 EUR

    – 100g can of sardines for 0.75 EUR

    – 0.5 kg package of storable bread (1-2 months) 0.6 EUR

    Again, just a short list, all in all, to add a mixture of micro-nutrient foods to the processed sugar calories, the daily cost of food increases by about another 1,5 EUR – 2,5 EUR.

    ————————————————————

    We end up with 3 EUR – 5 EUR daily and 90 EUR – 150 EUR monthly food bill, that requires no cooking, no kitchen, and is available to all, regardless of accommodation.

    Note, that vitamin and mineral pills only cost about 5 EUR per month and are the least costly option of all.

    The theoretic lowest/cheapest option is (by my estimate) about 42 Euros monthly, but users would go mad with only the cheapest cookies as food source, plus continuous reliance on pure pill-based micro nutrients is probably suicide (or murder, if you consider the populace is being forced on this path by upper class libertarians).

    So, the realistic cost would be about 90 EUR monthly minimum, for a mixture of high calorie/ low price factory foods with daily food- (as opposed to pill-only) extras for micro nutrients.

    For a week this comes down to about 23 Euros, pleasant foods, no lack of volume, no lack of energy (but I cannot comment on sufficiency of micro nutrients, without any studies confirming long term viability).

    The British govt. 30 Pound weekly plan should suffice if they simply gave the money to the recipients and leave them to buy what they need.

    ————————————————————

    I should note however, that food and feeding education is needed, plus education on good buying practices and merchant malpractice avoidance; regardless, the simplest way to fix such problems (from the point of view of the populace) is still to engage in robust and forceful regulatory regime (for example, industry could be easily forced to add micro-nutrients to otherwise “empty” high-calorie foods).

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I am not sure what purpose your foods and prices exercise serves — it is reminiscent of George Orwell’s discussion of the diets of the poor in “The Road to Wigan Pier”. Is the absolute minimum cost for a healthy diet your criterion for feeding the hungry?

      Reply
      1. No it was not, apparently

        Well, we do have to admit that – assuming the costs are real (i.e. cheap food really is easier to produce and transport and consume) – food should be as cheap as possible.

        The point of good economy is to bring down the cost of everything towards zero.

        (Where cost need to include time, effort, health of users expended in effort, etc.)

        —————————–

        And it seemed to me that 30 Pounds should actually fix the problem, not for the poor, but for anyone, really.

        Also, I hoped for a sound-off on food costs, as perceived by the commentariat in their own environment.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Food costs are very much a function of food and diet custom. You want to minimize costs try beans seasoned with wild epazote with corn tortillas, tomatoes and squash or try potatoes and cabbage, chuño or hard tack and limes, or vat grown yeast with algae. I am not sure what will best get your price down. The prices hence costs for many items are also a matter of diet custom, and Government subsidies in various forms which will complicate your cost computations.

          I don’t know about Great Britain, but I hope things have not become so desperate that feeding the poor in the US is a matter of designing some kind of absolute minimum cost diet.

          Reply

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