Irony is dead: UK food bank edition
December 4, 2018 2:53 AM   Subscribe

Happy food poverty!” On BizarroIsland, Conservative MPs have been using food banks as a PR exercise. Newsworthy Claire Perry is particularly jovial, while Ross Thomson is hypocritical. The pictures have not gone down well; recently, the now-former Brexit minister said a typical food bank user is ‘someone who has a cashflow problem episodically’. Context: the UK is the 5th or 6th largest economy by GDP. Since 2010, food bank use has greatly increased; Universal Credit rollout has led to higher demand, and 4.5 million children live in poverty. Recent UN investigation: “14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials.
posted by Wordshore (42 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
My country disgusts me, I have no idea how anyone summons even a shred of patriotism about it any more. I wish the people responsible for making things the way they are now felt even half as ashamed and guilty about it as I feel personally, even though I've consistently put both my voting record and my charitable giving where my mouth is on this issue.
posted by terretu at 3:06 AM on December 4, 2018 [25 favorites]

And yet, when we have another election, about forty percent to half of all voters on England will back them.
posted by Dysk at 3:18 AM on December 4, 2018 [12 favorites]

My country disgusts me, I have no idea how anyone summons even a shred of patriotism about it any more.

I haven't had any English patriotism my whole life, being very aware through practice of the "know your place" aspect of society from age very young. My place was supposed to be rural farming working class for life.

I've worked in several food banks and can see how selective these photo opportunities would be. Some food bank managers/co-ordinators would outright say "no" to any Conservative MP wanting to come in. Others would say "yes" and ensure that people such as me would not be on shift at the time because of the risk of "incident".

Not seeing any hope of a postive upturn (and that's before taking Brexit into account). The socio-economic and political situation, in England in particular, seems irretrievably broken. Not for the first time, am sitting here with morning tea and thinking "why the hell am I still here?"
posted by Wordshore at 3:28 AM on December 4, 2018 [13 favorites]

Just a reminder for people who can spare a few pounds more easily than you can spare time, it's still very useful to donate cash to food banks. If nothing else, I figure that the people running food banks will have a better idea of what's needed than me (including things like paying their own running costs), and probably have access to better bulk buying deals.

The Trussell Trust runs a big network of food banks all over the UK, or of course you can find your local food bank and donate to them.
posted by metaBugs at 3:44 AM on December 4, 2018 [15 favorites]

If the growth of food poverty wasn't bad enough, apparently water poverty is an increasing problem now too.
posted by misteraitch at 3:47 AM on December 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

My wife and a few friends organise food collections at some local shops several times a year. Each collection takes a certain amount of organising, and people giving up their morning to collect the food, give out information, and then transport and unload the food to the charity that runs the local food bank. The most recent one collected many hundreds of pounds worth of food, including treats for Christmas etc.

Based on a conversation with the food bank people, who have to help around 140 people every day, we brought enough food to keep them running for a couple of hours...
posted by pipeski at 3:50 AM on December 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

the rich and poor, will be equal in collecting their weekly ration from their local food bank UK Food Distribution Center.

Like fuck they will. The well-off might have to queue at your distribution centres, the rich certainly won't (they can employ people to do that for them if it comes to that) and the poor won't get shit.
posted by Dysk at 3:59 AM on December 4, 2018 [13 favorites]

On food banks, I have noticed that increasingly there are donation boxes in supermarkets. In the past I thought that donations were converted back to cash which was given to centres (like the Oxfam “buy a goat” campaigns). However, if they aren’t, I will be a bit more choosy with what I put In the box!

Wordshore, as a voice from the inside, do you know which it is?
posted by fizban at 4:20 AM on December 4, 2018

If you're talking about donated food and groceries, the donations are usually provided to those who need them.

Our local food bank has a collection box in the local supermarket and the box always has a list of priority items to buy. Apparently some Sainsburys stores will now have shelving display cards for priority items. Or find your local food bank's website, which should have a list.

At this time of year I bite my athiest tongue and also donate cash to the local food bank (it's run by a church) to help cover their running costs, which can get overlooked. I don't care who is running it, they are doing an essential job.

Our local MP is an odious little Tory shit who consistently votes against anything that might enhance welfare. I'd hope that if he ever turned up at a food bank they'd pelt him with tins.
posted by dowcrag at 4:34 AM on December 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

The food that gets donated at food banks in supermarkets is given directly to the food bank. some supermarkets do a top up donation. Tesco adds an additional 20% of the value. Asda, Tesco and Waitrose work with the Trussell Trust to pass on donations and food that would otherwise be binned through Fareshare.
posted by biffa at 4:43 AM on December 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

Great, thanks both!
posted by fizban at 5:34 AM on December 4, 2018

Hypocritical indeed. This is like Dracula doing the ribbon cutting at a blood bank.
posted by adept256 at 5:37 AM on December 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've always been wary of food bank collection boxes in supermarkets. Not that I don't think the food is being properly donated, but I hate the fact that the store profits from this "charity" through the markup on the food products they're encouraging you to buy and donate.

Would it not be more efficient for me to donate cash so the food bank can buy direct from wholesalers or even farmers and avoid the multiple profit margins between farm and fork?
posted by rocket88 at 5:38 AM on December 4, 2018 [10 favorites]

...I hate the fact that the store profits from this "charity" through the markup on the food products they're encouraging you to buy and donate.

Yes, that's exactly why I give money and items which aren't usually given, such as toiletries. Foodbanks regularly get way too many of the most obvious items - cheapest/supermarket value pasta being the main one. Remembering the one time the food bank I was in had over a hundred packets of this, but no toothbrushes, toothpaste, washing powder or toilet rolls.

The supermarkets benefit in three ways from putting out food donation boxes for their customers to put food into:
- the profit on the items those customers have just bought and donated
- clearing hard-to-move stock by positioning and pricing, making it more attractive for customers to buy and donate
- the "we are being good" PR from this. "Supermarket X has donated..." always feels sleazy, as it should really be "The customers who bought goods at Supermarket X donated..."
posted by Wordshore at 5:48 AM on December 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

Why make a serious effort to treat someone else's health problem when you can just slap a band-aid on them in front of the cameras and call it a day?
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:02 AM on December 4, 2018

The live on poverty welfare rates experiment here in BC got cancelled this year as it would have put people's health at risk. Still frustrated that that only got a one page headline instead of how crazy it is that we fund our social net at that level.
posted by kanata at 6:43 AM on December 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I recently started volunteering at the local food bank to drive around collecting donations, which has been an interesting insight on some of the logistics of how this all works. To answer some questions brought up here, at least for our bank, the largest fraction of our donations comes from stores, processing centers, and farms. One of the benefits they get from this is a tax benefit, which is a core incentive for them to be donating as much as they do and it really forms the foundation of what we collect.

On the other hand it also tends to be a bit unpredictable seeing as it's based on what stock they need to get rid of. So like the one time we got a zillion boxes full of hot chocolate k-cups. And that's kind of good! I firmly believe we shouldn't be limited to giving out rice and vitamin pills or whatever, I like that we get fancier stuff too. But what are our clients going to do with that many k-cups?

Which is why the individual donation bins can be important to us too. It's no big deal to pick up from them since we're already there. And people tend to put all sorts of different things in there so it gives our collections some much-needed diversity.

Yes cash is great, feel free to donate that, but we're always getting food donations anyway so don't feel shy about dropping a little something good in the bin.
posted by traveler_ at 7:04 AM on December 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

To answer some questions brought up here, at least for our bank, the largest fraction of our donations comes from stores, processing centers, and farms.

Meanwhile, in Britain, "Over 90% of the food distributed by foodbanks in The Trussell Trust network is donated by the public..."
posted by Dysk at 7:22 AM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

My local food bank is also so oversubscribed that you need a referral from a doctor, social worker, the Salvation Army, or CAB. Which will get you a three day pack. Many of those referrers will not re-refer you - their idea is that the food bank is to get you through a brief crisis, and is not to be used as a longer term solution. That would be great if there were other actual longer term solutions available to people, but there so often isn't. It can also take days, weeks, or even longer to get seen by a referring agency or organisation.

None of it is a way, simple, or as much of an actual solution to getting food to people who can't afford to feed themselves as you probably imagine. It's certainly much more strict and limited than I'd imagined.

Your local food bank will almost certainly list what they're short on, and what they don't need right now in their website. That'd be the place to check to know how best to help.
posted by Dysk at 7:32 AM on December 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

None of it is a way, simple, or as much of an actual solution

None of it is as easy, simple... that should say. Several languages on a swipe keyboard sucks.

posted by Dysk at 7:44 AM on December 4, 2018

I've always been wary of food bank collection boxes in supermarkets. Not that I don't think the food is being properly donated, but I hate the fact that the store profits from this "charity" through the markup on the food products they're encouraging you to buy and donate.
There was a drive for animal shelters in a chain, and we had like two unopened large cans of cat food for a stray that was abandoned and was starving when the downstairs neighbours who fed him moved out (they found him a home before leaving for good). Since we had no use for them, we thought about dropping them in, but they were strictly forbidden of accepting anything that wasn't coming from the tills.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:44 AM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I work at a very large food pantry (we serve about 7000 people every month). The best thing you can donate is your time--if you can come in and work, even if you can only commit to a couple of hours once a month, it's a massive help. If anybody is curious about logistics or other aspects, I'd be happy to answer questions.
posted by EarBucket at 7:45 AM on December 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I appreciate all the first-hand comments but it would be useful, to me at least, if people mentioned whether they are in the US or in the UK.

This thread is about the current food crisis in the UK and as pointed out by Dysk, food banks do not necessarily operate in the same way.
posted by vacapinta at 7:51 AM on December 4, 2018 [12 favorites]

My local food bank for example (in the Midlands) is much more desperately in need of tinned meat and veg than it is toiletries (except for shaving foam), money, or volunteers.
posted by Dysk at 7:55 AM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sorry, yes, in the US here.
posted by EarBucket at 7:57 AM on December 4, 2018

Thanks for the recommendations about the Trussell Trust, folks. I've been living away from the UK for seven years now, feeling more and more helpless about making any difference. I'm about to make a donation right now and will mention them as well as Shelter as a charity people can donate to for me at Christmas.
posted by daisyk at 8:13 AM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

they were strictly forbidden of accepting anything that wasn't coming from the tills.

Some of the UK supermarkets also have a sort of cat foodbank for donation to the Cats Protection charity. We have taken unwanted cat food in a few times without problem and there is nothing to indicate they will refuse either human or pet food that I have ever seen.

(I include the link since I am sure some Mefites will enjoy looking through the adopt-a-cat pages.)
posted by biffa at 8:31 AM on December 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

terretu, as someone in a similar non-UK situation, I try to remain proud of my country's ideals while deploring and working to change the many ways we systematically fall short of (or actively thwart) them. I can be proud of the good things my people have done, and try to fix the bad things, and accept that other people don't feel the same way and that's OK. It's complicated, but I can't throw out the good parts of my heritage. YMMV naturally.

I think it helps that I got a practice run because of some family stuff that happened. I've known since I was a small child how to love partially and carefully.

I hope this helps you sort out how you feel about your country. And I hope things get better, for your country and mine.
posted by Ahniya at 8:40 AM on December 4, 2018

I've been out of the UK for a while, but was visiting for a couple of weeks in November and things are notably worse. The homeless population around London has exploded since I was last there-- not too long ago, you might never really come across anyone having to beg for money, but now-- well, I'm starting to get USA vibes about it all.

Just outside Charing Cross station the was a big queue of wide mix of Londoners for something, didn't pay it much mind, but when I was wandering past a bit later, I saw that it was SWAT London (Sikh Welfare and Awareness Team) who were handing out food and supplies to that large queue, all just queuing to just make it past another day or two. Don't know much about the charity-- but I can vouch for the fact that they're feeding people in need SWAT London and that's well worth a donation from me.
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:49 AM on December 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Not just around London. Rough sleeping has gone up every year since 2010. Total rough sleeping was up 169% from 2010 to 2017.
posted by biffa at 9:30 AM on December 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

Context: the UK is the 5th or 6th largest economy by GDP.

Maybe we should stop using GDP as a metric for individual well-being? The UK is 19th worldwide in gross household income (adjusted for purchasing power), and 12th per capita. I'm struggling to find historical data that uses the right basis for comparison, but I think that's declined over the last several decades. The increasing poverty is almost certainly a product of the concentration of wealth and ensuing decline / increasing precipitiousness of the working class.

The UK bet on the financial industry as the prime mover of its economy, which is an industry that is well-known for creating small numbers of intensely (obnoxiously...) rich people, and very little else, at least directly. Indirectly, it seems to lead to a lot of high-end retail and service industries, which are better than no jobs at all, but building an economy on making rich people feel good about their conspicuous consumption, basically turning a lot of the non-rich into economic fluffers, doesn't strike me as especially healthy for anyone involved.

IMO, this is a more general problem with the push towards "thought work" or the promotion of the "creative class" uber alles in modern Western economies. Traditional manfuacturing-centered industries have extensive supply chains which produce 'upstream' jobs themselves centered around production. (The automobile factory requires alternators which require copper wire which requires copper which requires ore... etc.) But lately, major economies have decided to heavily promote industries which require few inputs, yet are highly-compensated; they create jobs but mostly in the 'downstream' direction, in service industries catering to the whims of those highly-compensated people. This does not strike me as healthy, even if it provided a living wage for everyone involved, which it frequently doesn't seem to do.

It seems ironic to me that while the Industrial Revolution brought us large-scale manufacturing and the concept of "alienated labor", what is now called "post-industrialization" has actually created jobs that seem more alienating. And that's assuming you have one, of course. How many of the people currently homeless would have had a job, 50 years ago? A fair number, I suspect.

Personally, I don't think this is something that can be solved just by doubling down on finance or "creative" industries and then trying to tax the shit out of the few highly-compensated jobs that it produces; there's no reason to think that it won't remain a political impossibility, and even if it suddenly became a possibility, you'd have a very high incentive for tax avoidance (and a lot of resources with which to come up with avoidance strategies). High taxes on small numbers of people has, traditionally, not been a very stable basis for funding public services, either. (It would probably be bad to hang the entire public sector off a few bankers salaries at 90% taxation, and then suddenly have the bankers up and leave for Doha or Dubai or wherever the trendy place with quasi-legal slavery is this year.) The solution, IMO, has to involve backing away from the insane promotion of "lone wolf" industries that create few upstream jobs, and perhaps incentivize the onshoring of previously-offshored (sometimes heavily subsidized in that direction) supply chains.

A side benefit, aside from alleviating poverty through greater income equality—which is enough of a goal in itself, don't get me wrong—would likely be a decline in populist politics; I don't think it's accidental that "de-industrialization" has been accompanied by a rise in populism, right-wing populism in particular, nearly every place that it's happened. The Trumpers in the US and Brexiters in the UK, at least the few that I've talked to (and I have family in the Midlands who were very pro-Brexit, so this isn't entirely hypothetical) are really pissed about the economy, first and foremost; in a quiet moment you can almost get them to straight-up admit that the "Poles and pikeys" stuff is really an issue because the jobs have gone. You could potentially get two birds with one stone, and aside from climate change they're probably two of the biggest birds, too.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:58 AM on December 4, 2018 [15 favorites]

I keep donating to the Trussell Trust bins at the supermarket, but I am really eager to find an independent food bank, because those 3-day-packages-by-referral-only limitations really rub me the wrong way. Evidently, you can only get three 3-day packages in total, and then what? That's what worries me. Where the hell do you go when you've maxed out on TT's limits? I don't know, I could be wrong (and if I am, please do correct me) but the whole thing kind of feels a bit "deserving poor" to me.
posted by skybluepink at 10:31 AM on December 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Maybe we should stop using GDP as a metric for individual well-being?

That's not what the OP was doing. He was using it to illustrate how avoidable the absence of individual well-being is, given the productivity of out society.
posted by howfar at 10:34 AM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah skybluepink, I share your reservations. For a whole hell of a lot of the country they're the only game in town, though. It's just a horrible situation all over.
posted by Dysk at 10:50 AM on December 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

their idea is that the food bank is to get you through a brief crisis, and is not to be used as a longer term solution.

Which is especially frustrating with the Universal Credit's built-in delays and skipped payments- a friend of mine didnt get UC for an entire month because the wage she earns from her job went in early because payday was on a weekend (you know, that thing that happens to most people a few times a year!). No advance warning, and the DWP's response was that yes, this is going to happen multiple times per year, just budget for it.

Back in 2008, I thought being on Jobseekers Allowance was pretty shitty, but the Tories have succeeded in making that time look like rainbows and lollipops. At least six weeks with no money at all would have left me completely destitute.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:09 AM on December 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

“This casualisation and impoverishment of the workforce looks, from the bird's eye view, like something else entirely. It looks like an achievement. It looks like growth. It looks like moral improvement because, fill in your own cliche about welfare dependency. It looks like a boom in part because living standards for the rich and affluent are booming. From that point of view, poverty is either a useful motivator, keeping people productive, or a transitional experience of little overall significance, or -- if it threatens morally ugly destitution -- an unpleasant little blot on an otherwise majestic moral landscape. So, you turn up at a foodbank and throw a few cans of baked beans and peeled plum tomatoes at the poor.
posted by The Whelk at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wordshore, thanks for he reminder that i am not doing my full bit. I will do better.
posted by stanf at 3:04 PM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was in the US I did some volunteering at a local food truck; it was a semi-truck of largely (nearly expired) produce that came in and the volunteers parceled out the food to the long line that was waiting.

A couple of observations; the 'gourmet' food was largely not taken by the poor folks as they were unfamiliar with how to use it. I was the only man there (out of about 10 volunteers). Being able to lug around heavy things and reach into higher places was greatly appreciated.

Finally, and I'm not proud of it, but I took advantage of it, volunteers got first pick at the items that weren't in high supply (which often were gourmet items), so the 'selfless' act turned into 'I get the best stuff and first pick at it'. It was one of the most fulfilling uses of my time in my life; the people were extremely grateful I was there (not the 'customers', but the fellow volunteers; but that was fine by me).
posted by el io at 9:56 PM on December 4, 2018

I didn't know that people have to be referred to the Trussell Trust. That must mean some people who need help aren't getting it (fear of social services or doctors etc). The foodbanks near me all seem to be run by churches, but I think they are just drop-in. Don't know whether they have a limit to how many times one can return.

The collection point in Waitrose near me often has lots of chocolate and crisps in it, as well as loo paper etc.

Thanks for the post - it's made me plan to enquire about hunger at the school I volunteer at.
posted by paduasoy at 5:02 AM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Guardian (Jack Monroe): "Don’t bash millennials for not having tin openers – donate one to a food bank instead."
posted by Wordshore at 5:28 AM on December 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, when I was buying stuff for the food bank today at the supermarket, I ended up swapping a few things around when I realised the items I originally picked didn't have ring-pulls. I didn't even think about buying a tin opener, and will do that next time. I check periodically, and still haven't found a food bank that isn't affiliated with the Trussell Trust, but whatever my qualms about them, our area has been brutalised by Universal Credit and I can't even stand to go into a supermarket without throwing at least a couple of things into the collection point.
posted by skybluepink at 7:10 AM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

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