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Is Using Food Banks a Sign of Real Poverty?

Food package

Food banks are very much in the news in Britain, with figures showing that over one million people in the country are using them, while organisations and campaigners ask for more funds for the purpose.

To cater for the persons using them, lots of food banks are all over the UK, run by churches and voluntary groups, providing food for people who are said to struggle to make ends meet.

After all the indigestion (pun unintended) of talk about food banks during the last campaign for the election of the UK Parliament in May, I wished to find out more about these monsters, the symbol of Conservative “austerity” policy.

I may seem unkind, but my prediction was that food banks would be frequented by fat people who wanted to save their money to spend it on fags and booze, and sometimes drugs.

After all, the food problem that most people – and especially those belonging to lower social classes – have is a problem of eating too much, not too little.

Wasn’t I right!

Most photos of food banks only show those who work for them and not the people who use them, and the reason for this is that, when you do see the food bank clients, many look clearly fat, and even obese.

Ah, but that demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that they are poor, as fatness and obesity are, in our society, the hallmark of poverty.

Columnist Brendan O’Neill wrote a rather scathing article on the subject some time ago, that created controversy. Entitled “What’s fuelling the food-bank frenzy? The hunger for publicity of anti-poverty activists”, it started:

Something about the food-bank frenzy doesn’t add up. Reading the Dickens-tinged coverage of food banks, of which there are now 400, you could be forgiven for thinking that Britain has done a timewarp back to the Victorian era of emaciated urchins begging for scraps of bread on foggy bridges. Britons are “hungrier than ever”, says the Independent. “Starving Britain”, says one newspaper headline. There is clearly enormous “destitution, hardship and hunger” in Britain, says Oxfam. Even the International Red Cross has got involved, promising to help tackle Britain’s “food poverty”. What next – a charity single along the lines of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, only aimed at getting emergency food to allegedly starving Brits rather than actually starving Africans?

We’re going back in time to Dickens and in space to starving Africa. But we still have an obesity crisis, especially among the “poor”.

What kind of poor can they be, if they have too much food? Enter the “new poor”, who have too much rather than too little.

Yes, goes the answer, but it’s not quantity but quality that makes poverty these days. So, the “poor” eat the wrong stuff.

Why not open “healthy food banks”, then? That’s an idea. For, you see, it’s difficult to believe that large numbers of people in Britain are actually starving because unable to spare 25p (pence, pennies) for a can of baked beans and 40p for a loaf of sliced bread from Tesco or other supermarket chains.

In fact for a long time the complaint has been that food was too cheap. Food poverty = inability to have a healthy diet.

The problem here, which creates so much confusion, is semantic: the word “poverty” has been redefined for ideological and political reasons and that makes the term almost useless, at least in the affluent Western world.

The real meaning of the word “poverty”, in the genuine sense of not having what one objectively needs, has now been restricted to the expression “absolute poverty”, while “relative poverty” is what is applied to people who generally are not poor at all, but are poor only compared to the society’s average. Therefore, if they live in a rich society, it simply means that they are not as wealthy as they would like to be, not enough to “keep up with the Joneses”.

About the author

Enza Ferreri

Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based Philosophy graduate, writer and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L’Espresso, La Repubblica. She blogs at www.enzaferreri.blogspot.co.uk.

  • Alexander Baron

    Wow, this will ruffle a few feathers! It isn’t food that is the problem, food is indeed relatively cheap: rent and travel are two big factors here. Plus the fact that most of the people at the bottom of society are not employable in the proper sense of the word.