A return to community canteens as an alternative to food banks?
Did you watch Channel 4's latest sensational documentary Junk Food Kids
? If so, you probably shared the sense of outrage that exploded across social media when scenes featuring obese children with decaying teeth were broadcast.
But the presence of fat children on our screens masks the fact that we are currently facing an unnecessary global starvation epidemic. We live in a time of overabundant food production. Despite this, almost a billion people go hungry every day. These figures are no longer only applicable to the developing world.
According to recent statistics, one in five
British children now lives below the poverty line. Speak to those working in paediatric medicine in Britain today and they'll tell you that A&E departments are not just hosting overweight children with health problems but, especially in school holiday time, kids that are seriously under-fed. Just hang on for a minute and think about that - malnourished children in this country. Isn't that, well, just a tad Dickensian? Dead right it is. And so, unfortunately, is the solution to this problem: the food bank.
The Trussell Trust
, which runs most food banks, feeds more than a million people a year. The trust is a faith-based network supplemented by other voluntary anti-food poverty schemes, the majority of which are church-based.
There is nothing wrong with non-proselytising faith groups alleviating food poverty. After all, there are plenty of biblical examples supporting this ethic. But one may be forgiven for wondering where the state comes in to all this.
Before Christmas the much-anticipated parliamentary report on food poverty
was published. Even "advanced Western economies" with "mature welfare states", it stated, are reliant on food banks. How has this happened?
To answer this question, we need to look at how Britain dealt with food poverty in the past. From research into egalitarian eating
, it's clear this country faced a serious food problem due to trade disruption during World War I. In the centenary year of 2014, while the BBC and other broadcasters were busy sending reporters off to trudge the poppy-dotted battlefields for the umpteenth time, they ignored an aspect of the war which has great relevance for public health today: communal kitchens.
The communal kitchens of one hundred years ago grew out of wartime working class communities, where public dining ventures nourished the most needy at a time when food supplies were poor and nutritional standards low. These grassroots efforts evolved into state-supported "national kitchens" or "national restaurants". People brought a plate or bowl to a "distribution centre" and had it filled up with nutritious food for a modest fee. This rough-and-ready model soon evolved into cheap restaurants where people received hearty, fresh, nutritious meals at incredibly low prices.