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Tackling food poverty one shopping bag at a time by Yansie Rolston

January 8th, 2021



Some people embody kindness and compassion, and whenever those people reach out for help you just cannot say “no”, especially when the call is to benefit the community. 


Food insecurity and poverty which the Department of Health defines as ‘The inability to afford, or to have access to, food to make up a healthy diet.’ is a serious scourge on our society and you would probably be surprised to know that in 2019 right here in the UK there were approximately 8.4 million people struggling to get enough to eat. Equally shocking is that 42% of food purchased is thrown out, so in other words just under half of the food that is purchased is binned – how sad is that especially because there are millions (yes millions) of people in the grips of food poverty. Let that sink in.


Food insecurity and poverty has been receiving the media attention it deserves and I thank  all those people who are doing whatever they can to help - thanks Marcus Rashford and your mum for launching the End Child Food Poverty Programme. However, in the grand scheme of things a lot more needs to be done even beyond donating cans to local food banks. Mind you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving cans of food – big thanks to all those people who support food banks. But people who are eating in crisis should also have access to good quality, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food bearing in mind that food is not merely a commodity, it is also an experience.

A few years ago, Tashini of Efficacy EVA’s #UGiveHope Project packed a bag with items that were surplus to her needs from a Christmas hamper, and turned up outside a food bank and gave it to a family. She often speaks of the gratitude and joy with which they welcomed the items and every year thereafter she uses her limited resources to buy extra items for two full Christmas dinners (including all the trimmings and deserts), turns up outside the food bank and gives to two families so that they can enjoy a full Christmas dinner experience. 


COVID-19 has caused and is continuing to cause havoc - people are struggling financially and access to food is an issue, so thanks to Ubele’s collaboration with #UGiveHope and Impact Cuisine, vulnerable families in North London, East London and Saffron Walden were able to have food items and meals that catered to their specific cultural dietary needs and have a holiday experience. That all happened because Tashini reached out and her call was answered.


Reports are that Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic people are more likely to experience food poverty, but getting food is not their only issue. There are other complexities such as the relationships with food in the context of cultural heritage - for example, around what food is eaten, when it is eaten, with whom it is eaten, how it is eaten, and how and where the food is prepared. 


We did our part in trying to navigate those complexities by offering a wide array of ingredients from potatoes to plantains, gunga peas to gulab jamun, asparagus to aubergine, baklava to banana, carrots to chou chou, squash to swede, turnips to turkey so that people could prepare their own meals in accordance with their culture (a quick visit to google will help identify any items that you aren’t familiar with). They were also provided with a diverse range of freshly cooked foods such as soups, curries, sandwiches, vegetables, meat, fish etc - the list goes on and on. Home deliveries of either ingredients or prepared meals were arranged and tables set up in the open air in keeping with health and safety and Covid19 guidelines and what a difference it made. The feedback has been touching, heartfelt and emotional at times. 


Families cried (it was so hard not being able to hug people), one mother said that she was embarrassed to use food banks because she thinks people judge her for being a single parent with four children. Another said that the delivery of hot meals meant that his family were enjoying their first take away meal in almost a year. Parents and kids found out the names of some of the ingredients, and recipes were exchanged. There were tears of joy, lots of laughter, full tummies and food cupboards stocked up – and this is our way of tackling food poverty one bag at a time.

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