Care & compassion, a better society, a better world

Foodbanks: The Failed State; Different Food for the Poor


Foodbanks are not the answer to a hunger problem in the Developed world. They are a symptom of the serious state of social security for the poor, a failure of the state in providing for its citizens. They sprung up from emergency rations for disasters, such as earthquake or flood, for communities suddenly hit. As such they can be helpful and generally have been for all people not as means to provide for the poorest only, but because of a sudden shortage in an area to provide cover whilst supplies can be restored.

As a regular means of supply they fail badly and are divisive, in that it means a society where the rich get to choose exactly what they want to eat and the poor have to eat what they are given, the crumbs off the table.

Running and providing food in foodbanks also requires a great amount of resources from volunteers who if they were able to volunteer the time and effort they put into running the foodbanks could help other needy sections of the community where voluntary work could provide additional resources for all the many charities in the country. Instead this means all this voluntary effort and related expense is channelled from other charities towards the foodbanks that should not need to be there in the first place in a developed society.

There are also fallacies from people who do not use them, portrayed in the media and by MPs and even some professionals when reporting on foodbank use, that poor people are relying on foodbanks, which in itself conveys the message that they are being supplied with their needs, when they are not, far from it. Also in reality most only provide food where vouchers have been issued by professionals, organisations and even job centres where other people have to assess if a person is eligible and then in most cases along the standard practice of a limit of 3 food supplies a year, with each supply given estimated to be enough for only a few days. Further it has to be considered for emergency rations, people can cope with lower quality food for a short period, but when this goes on for weeks, into months even years, there is a cumulative effect on health.

There is almost no choice for the recipient to what food they can receive, except for if someone is vegetarian and even then in a limited way. The next thing is for all the good work of volunteers and organisations and they do a lot of good work, putting in hours collecting sorting and distributing food, even trying their best with limited resources to make up as good a food parcel as they can, so it is not a criticism of the volunteers, but of a system that is necessitating this kind of provision, that is rather like a sticking plaster and not the solution to a failed economic system, one where inequality is the order of the day.

Also the generosity of members of the public, although not all by any means and with many of the public also being poor themselves as poverty increases so the ability to donate to foodbanks will also diminish. There is also the relative newness of people wanting to contribute to a disaster fund, but as time goes on, if it becomes part of running the system rather than as a short term emergency cover, then the public will also become fed up of constantly being asked to contribute to foodbanks. Even supermarket contributions of food can tend to include the types of food that is not the best for people who already have had a low quality diet, as many processed packaged foods are not the best for people in the first place. It is very much of the emergency provision and often not the most nutritious or even best value, but not to criticise the god work of the most well intended, also to realise the general population even with choice often chose foods that are not the best for health. But for users of food banks there is no choice as of course it is free, it is a last resort and many of the users are desperate.

Foodbank supplies generally do not include fresh produce, possibly partly due to problems of keeping and distributing fresh food that has not gone off, which would be wasted due to transit or if given out could be a health hazard, even a serious one. So it is partly a logistic limitation, but also fresh produce tends to cost more, although it is often better for people’s health. Then there is an absence of staples of any main meal, again possibly because these often include fresh produce such as meat or fish and they tend to be the most expensive of foods, even though not exotic foods, but the general cost of lean meat and fresh fish is expensive. Also for milk there appears to be a standardised use of UHT, condensed or dried milk, which is not the best for many people and anyone wanting to use skimmed milk for health reasons. UHT in particular does not suit everyone and condensed can be high in fat and is still not fresh. Also there is limited alternatives for vegetarians that often do not conform to what needs to be a very well balanced diet to replace the nutrients of meat and fish, often requiring fresh vegetables and a specially balanced mix of vegetables, beans, rice etc that can be expensive.

The items offered are generally the cheaper ones and value range products typically have less quantities of the main more expensive food items, also even by putting them in smaller quantities, so making as smaller meal. However because of the additives and fat components this is not necessarily helping people with weight, but also often fall well short of essential nutrients and made up by more chemicals and the less expensive items.

The allocation of foodbank vouchers also means many people are missed out from receiving foodbank vouchers and those that do, if their unemployment or ultra-low paid employment continues for any length of time is also inadequate. Even if food banks were always available to the poorest the types of food included would not provide a reasonable healthy balanced long-term diet and would provide very little even no choice.

The inclusion of such things as crisps, dried soups, tins of low protein soups even from well-known manufacturers do not compare with quality food. Even if some items are what people freely buy that doesn’t make them healthy foods. There can also be differences in quality between different foodbanks and where donations are part of supply, this can tend to be what others do not want. In some cases this can be near sell-by, which may not taste as good and if the food were fresh could present a health hazard, as often even supermarkets selling fresh items near sell-by often include items that a noticeably in poorer condition requiring immediate consumption properly cooked and even then can show a marked drop of fin quality and taste. Food that can be stored also can be not as good a taste if it is at sell-by or even beyond.

There is no room to be health conscious food or such things as free-range chicken if meat, including tinned meat likely to be highly intensive farmed, chemically pumped and not considering animal welfare type conditions. Also there is no room for food bank users to insist on green or to be able to choose not to have GMO sourced products. There is no free choice.

It is like if someone is given McBurgers to stop them starving, they are then exposed to the chemicals of the McBurgers and the consequences of a poor diet.
All of these facts apart, foodbanks are still inadequate as means of regular food supply to the poor. They are not guaranteed and are for very limited periods. The quality can be inconsistent and variable as well as affected by the limitations mentioned above. They may be sufficient for a short term emergency need as it would stop people literally starving on the streets. But they do not provide the best balanced diets and ultimately can have detrimental dietary affects, including increased obesity, which in the developed world is a problem, also too now in the less-developed world, where the poor have to eat what they can get. The result can mean someone can be malnourished at the same time as being obese, but suffering from a low quality diet. This can also be used by callous commentators in drawing attention to someone’s larger size as indicating they are well fed, which is far from the truth.

Overall foodbanks are not the answer to insufficient income and benefits and expensive food supplies. The growing reliance on them is a strong indicator of a failed economic system and they appear most in countries of the widest inequalities.

Mike Sivier: Starving British children are looking for food in rubbish bins

“100 of George Osborne’s worst Economic Failures” by DrEoinCl


Ongoing blog item shall be added to as appropriate


2 thoughts on “Foodbanks: The Failed State; Different Food for the Poor

  1. Well put. But it looks to me the way the govt is handling it, they are trying to shirk paying welfare and fob people off on food banks. The charities do their best but as you pointed out, there is no way food banks can help other than for a short term need. And what happens to people who don’t get vouchers?

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