Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Growing food justice now!

Beyond Food banks Conference 28 February 2015


This conference took place in the iconic Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow. It was organised by the Church of Scotland, Faith in Community Scotland and the Centre for Human Ecology. They brought together a large number and wide range of people united in their desire to ensure Scotland can change from a situation in which real hunger is suffered, to a situation in which everybody has access to sufficient, nutritious food.
We heard Rachel Gray from Toronto, Canada speak eloquently about the ways that the Stop project (launched 35 years ago) has developed from an initial food bank type service into a community in which the provision and sharing of food is a means to reduce social isolation and foster long term relationships. We also anonymously heard from the experiences of two food bank users. One of the  food bank users, who is in part-time employment, reported  ".... I am still using the Food bank now because my housing benefit was stopped.... Security of housing is so crucial for us all and yet it  can be so insecure for those whose benefits are suddenly stopped.

Another food bank user reported her experience of having no employment and her benefit being reduced to just £57 a week while her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was reviewed. At this time, after all her bills were paid, she was left with only £7 per week to feed her family of three; she could not do it on such a small amount of money and had to accept referral to a food bank. She said, "I was very reluctant to use the food bank. I would rather have gone without food than use one, but I had to think of my family. I felt ashamed and very upset that my financial situation had sunk so low. I was very depressed which had a big impact on both my physical and mental health."

However as one person commented the real shame is the UK's for creating the economic and social conditions conditions in which food banks flourish; those who use food banks have nothing to be ashamed of. 

It was a stimulating day indeed that got participants thinking and more importantly committing to ideas and actions to combat food poverty and to stop food banks being  accepted as part and parcel of the welfare system. Different ways of fighting food poverty were explored. For example, participants heard about the experience of food co-ops in North Lanarkshire and a prospective community food centre in Ruchazie. Using a variety of such approaches and others, for instance, campaigning work around the General Election, could enable the growth of this emerging food justice movement. Beyond Food Banks successfully marked the beginning and definitely not the end of this process. As a demonstration of this a follow up event  will look at concrete actions or pilot projects etc., so please keep a look out for details.