Rad Food Rescue

FreshFoodConnect.jpg

Along Colorado’s Front Range, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, the three most prominent communities just couldn’t be more different.

Denver is the epicenter of the New West, the broad-shouldered city in the process of rapid gentrification, and where roughly one third of the population is Latino.

Ninety minutes to the south, Colorado Springs has deep conservative roots, “a playground for pro-life, pro-gun evangelical Christians.” The US Air Force Academy is located just outside of town.

Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs

Unknown.jpeg

Two hours north of “the Springs,” home to Buddhists, Bohemians, and bicyclists, Boulder is a very white and affluent community, where the natural food industry plays a strong role in the local economy.

Last month, I had the privilege to speak at events in Denver and Colorado Springs, which were sponsored by or included presenters from the Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs Food Rescue organizations (BFR, DFR and CSFR). These groups exist independently of each other but share a common lineage, outlook, and programming.

During the two afternoons I spent with these groups, my understanding of what it meant to rescue food was rendered unsalvageable by conversations with the staff from these groups. To me, the term “food rescue” has always evoked the image of volunteers driving around in a van picking up leftovers from a glitzy event or wilting lettuce from the local Safeway, to drop them off at a homeless shelter. It’s apolitical, logistical, and superficial.

These three groups do pick up excess food from local supermarkets, such as Whole Foods and Sprouts. And in their typically eco-Colorado way, they do much of their deliveries on bicycle.  But it’s what they do- or don't do- with the food that makes them so radically different than your average food recovery group.

First off, almost all of what they pick up is fresh and healthy. Turner Wyatt, the executive director of Denver Food Rescue notes that 85% of their distribution is produce and 99% perishable.

Turner Wyatt, DFR

Turner Wyatt, DFR

All three groups distribute the food to pickup sites located in low-income neighborhoods, through “no-cost grocery programs” (similar to social supermarkets in the UK). There is no distinction made between volunteer and recipient, and the very communities that they benefit also operate the programs. In some cases, community members also handle the food pick-up.  

Zac Chapman, CSFR

Zac Chapman, CSFR

Zac Chapman, the director of the Colorado Springs Food Rescue group acknowledges that the purpose of the no cost grocery programs is not to reduce hunger, but to build health equity. Before working in a community, CSFR starts out by seeking to understand how health inequities affect the neighborhood, by engaging in dialogues with local residents and leaders. Their partnerships, programs, and hires all flow from that dialogue.

Hayden Dansky, BFR

Hayden Dansky, BFR

Like his colleagues in Boulder and Denver, Zac believes that the typical model of a non-profit parachuting into a community must be replaced by partnerships that build community power. Turner echoes this sentiment, believing that every charity is a toxic charity, and the power to change itself lies within every community’s abilities. He sees DFR’s role as one of bridge-building to food businesses to provide legitimacy and logistics support. DFR also plays an important role in fostering the capacity of community groups to safely and effectively distribute the food.

Similarly, Zac, Turner, and Hayden Dansky, their Boulder counterpart, make a clear and emphatic distinction between no cost grocery programs and food pantries. To them, pantries are not located in communities where they are most needed. Their volunteers don’t speak the language of the participants. They often require documents that the immigrant or refugee participants do not possess. And they manifest a top down toxic style of charity with uneven power relations between recipient and volunteers.    

Zac acknowledges that “food rescue” is a misnomer for the community organizing, equity-oriented work that they do. It only represents the mechanics, not the heart and soul of what they do. He expects that Colorado Springs Food Rescue will roll out a new identity by 2019. 

Indicative of this broader direction, the three groups host an annual Food Forward Summit. The next one takes place in late April in Denver and will focus on food and gentrification. It is billed as an “un-conference,” which like their other work, seeks to break down the conventional conference model of elite speakers dumping information onto a community audience. This year’s meeting will focus on the intersection of food and gentrification, a hot topic in the rapidly growing Front Range communities.

DFR's new bike-powered grocery delivery service

DFR's new bike-powered grocery delivery service

Why did these three groups evolve in this direction? It helps to understand that Denver and Colorado Springs were born from Boulder’s experience.  Until last year, Colorado Springs used Boulder Food Rescue as its fiscal sponsor. Staff at Denver Food Rescue worked in Boulder, before starting their own organization. And Boulder came out of a very organic process in 2011, the product of a group of friends living together in a communal house called the Radish. They started in the same way that many food recovery groups begin: by noticing that supermarkets throw out a lot of edible food and there was a lot of need in the community. Soon they were serving meals in the park to the homeless community. The attendees were surprised that the program organizers actually shared the meal with them and inquired about their needs. Noone had treated them with such respect and dignity.  That revelation helped Hayden and colleagues to gain a better understanding of the organizing power of food, of how it could serve as a tool to build relationships and to create more just social structures.

Hayden attributes Boulder’s approach to two factors: the consensual decision making process that the group’s founders learned from living under the same roof in a cooperative house, and the lessons learned from participating in a social justice leadership program at Colorado University.   

Hayden reiterates BFR’s social justice roots, “Most food rescue groups focus on food waste and the false assumption that rescuing food will automatically feed all the hungry people in the world. That doesn’t address what is broken in the system.  Hunger is a symptom of a bigger problem. Food is a tool to do organizing work, but you can’t do a lot of change work if people’s basic needs are not being met.”

 

 

 

comrade Trump Might Just Be on to Something

Anti-hunger groups are aghast at the Trump administration’s proposal to distribute part of SNAP benefits in a “Harvest Box,” comprised of shelf stable items, such as pasta, cereal, canned foods, peanut butter, and boxed milk.  Neither produce nor other perishables would be included. Food bankers are concerned that they would be enlisted in the logistical nightmare of distributing these boxes to 21 million households.

Unknown-2.jpeg

There’s plenty to hate about this proposal. It’s impractical, stigmatizing, mean-spirited, and flies in the face of nutrition advice that encourages greater consumption of produce, just for starters.

These criticisms- as well as the copious articles I have read in the past two days- ignore the fact that USDA already distributes such boxes to 90,000 Native Americans who qualify for SNAP but live in remote areas without access to grocery stores.  The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) is a $150 million program, and has been generally moving in the right direction in recent years. The quality of the food has been improving to the extent that it is vastly better than what the average American eats, as measured by the Healthy Eating Index. USDA is required by statute to consult with tribal authorities about the program’s contents and operation. FDPIR has included more culturally appropriate foods, such as blue corn, bison, wild rice, and salmon in the food packages, although USDA still struggles to differentiate among the regional preferences of Indian nations. This sourcing of traditional foods has opened the door for USDA to purchase from Native agricultural enterprises, building wealth for Indian communities.  

Unknown-3.jpeg

Let’s also not forget that USDA, through its procurement arm, USDA Foods, buys hundreds of millions of dollars of commodities for food banks.  It also buys a billion or more dollars of commodities for schools to serve at school meals. It sets standards for which foods can be purchased in the WIC program, or what can be served at school lunch.

 So, let’s be very clear. USDA is already in the business of deciding what poor people- and schoolchildren- eat every day.

Beyond its impractical aspects, the main problem with the Harvest Box proposal is that it singles out poor people and tries to make their lives more miserable and more demeaning through controlling what they eat. Ignoring the cultural, personal and culinary preferences and abilities of 40 million people, it would standardize not just school lunch but family dinner.  It would nourish a lot of resentment.

Many critique the proposal for going too far in the government’s control over what poor people eat.  I argue the converse: it’s not that this proposal goes too far, but that it doesn’t go far enough.

If the federal government wants to get deeper into food procurement, beyond the $2 billion it spends on commodities for school lunch, FDPIR and food banks, then let’s go whole hog. Let’s do it for the entire American population, not just SNAP recipients. Let’s really save American taxpayers a big chunk of change rather than mess around with $10 or $20 billion per year. 

Here’s how to do it.

The Trump Administration should nationalize the grocery business. We might actually get some real savings out of doing so. We could shape people’s diets and cut back dramatically on diet-related diseases. They are an enormous drag on our society’s wealth. Diabetes, linked to poor diets, costs society $245 billion annually. Obesity, $190 billion. Heart disease, cancer hundreds of billions more.

Unknown-1.jpeg

If we are going to be a little Soviet, let’s double down and do it up.

Unknown.jpeg

The problem isn’t that the Harvest Box circumvents the free market, as Joel Berg of Hunger Free America (whose organization receives millions of dollars in grants from free market icons Pepsi and Walmart) states on NPR. Frankly, it’s that SNAP is an accomplice to our need for cheap food with the accompanying externalities caused to public health. It reinforces the ills of the marketplace rather than seeks to transform them. Bioethicist Nancy Kass of Johns Hopkins University asks whether our patterns of consumption represent a freedom of choice or a social injustice, and whether government action would be interfering with personal preferences or righting a wrong (Big Hunger p 137).

images-1.jpeg

If Trump wants to save money, we could do so by centralizing decision-making for the public good. Consider what a nationalized grocery industry could do for American health:

s15.jpg

·      Food deserts would be eliminated. Grocery stores would be sited based on community need not on a profit motive.

·      Harmful products, such as cigarettes and certain types of low-cost high-alcohol content drinks, would be less available as grocery stores no longer carry them.

·      Community-produced, union-produced, regionally grown and organic foods would be more easily available and more affordable, subsidized given their economic benefits to communities.

·      Conversely, foods that are harmful to the environment or to public health would either no longer be sold or priced in a way to discourage their consumption, with the premiums used to mitigate the damage that they cause. For example, soda would be sold at a price premium that discourages over consumption.

·      The selection of food items would be made more rational. Economists have written about the detrimental effects of having too much choice. Do we really need 200 varieties of soup, or just 40 or 50?

images.jpeg

·      Food waste would be reduced by changing how stores purchase and store foods.

images-2.jpeg

·      The pricing structure of foods would be changed such that healthy foods are less expensive.

images.jpeg

·      Store layouts would be retooled to incentivize healthy foods, e.g. no more end caps with chips and point of sale displays of candy bars at children’s eye level.

Unknown-4.jpeg

·      Each store would provide services, such as nutrition education, social service outreach, voter registration, health screenings, and more.

It's evident from this list that the grocery industry, in conjunction with the food processing industry, has done grave harm to public health.  Food is much too important to be left to the chaos and inequities of the corporate-controlled "free" market.

Now, I don’t trust the Trump Administration to do anything for the public good, but one never knows what will happen with the continuing influence of his dear friend Vladimir on our elections. 

Kicking the Can: Can SNAP Support More Healthful Diets?

Unknown-3.jpeg

 

Is SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) doing enough to protect the health of its 42 million recipients?

Food insecurity is a social determinant of health, so programs such as SNAP which alleviate food insecurity through providing funds for food purchases, do indeed improve the health of their recipients. A 2017 study out of Boston found that SNAP recipients spend  $1,400 less on health care than individuals at the same income level.  The assumption is that reduced health care expenditures are linked to better health.

But could SNAP’s nutritional impact be improved?  Low-income populations are at greater risk of diabetes (70%) and hypertension (19%) than the highest income populations in the US.

Two entities on opposite ends of the political spectrum think so.  Let’s consider the merits of their proposals.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s “Healthy Staples” proposal seeks to limit SNAP purchases to only healthful products, such as grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and vitamins. It looks to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program as a model. WIC provides vouchers for high-protein items, infant formula, produce, and healthy cereals as a nutrition supplement for vulnerable women and kids.  Laudable in its goals of decreasing consumption of unhealthy foods, this proposal falls short on a number of different levels, including the following:

-       First, it limits protein sources to legumes only. Most nutritionists agree that a healthy diet can include eggs, low fat dairy, fish, and lean meats. The Mediterranean diet, which this proposal emulates, does include many of these foods. This proposal would require unrealistic changes to the dietary patterns of most SNAP recipients, or even most Americans.

-       The proposal assumes that the SNAP population has more time available to prepare healthy meals than many do. Many SNAP recipients work long hours at multiple jobs, are elderly, disabled, or single parents, or have multiple stressors in their lives which impede them from spending hours cooking every day.

-       The proposal seeks to re-cast SNAP as a supplemental dietary program, as stated in its name. That may have been Congress’ intention, but it does contradict the reality that for many people SNAP represents the vast majority, if not all, of their food budget.  To call it a supplement only works when recipients have additional income with which to purchase food. The proposal does not explain where that additional income will come from.

Unknown-2.jpeg

Maine

 On the conservative end of the political spectrum, Maine requested for a second time in February 2017 a waiver of USDA rules to allow them to exclude candy and sugar sweetened beverages from SNAP.  Many anti-hunger advocates had considered this to be a punitive request, given the well-documented antipathy of Governor Le Page for federal nutrition programs. For example, he had threatened to terminate Maine’s participation in SNAP when the Obama Administration denied a similar waiver in 2016.

Last month, USDA denied this waiver request as it has done for similar requests from the states of New York, Minnesota, and Illinois. The Department expressed concerns about the proposal’s administrative costs, burden on small retailers, as well as the lack of clear and meaningful health outcomes that would come from such a restriction. 

Many of these concerns echo those of the food industry. The National Association of Convenience Stores penned a letter to USDA last fall opposing the waiver, stating, “Food retailers would become the frontlines of enforcement, facing added costs and loss of interoperability that would undoubtedly increase error rates.”

These technical concerns echo those of the previous administration (which also denied waiver requests because they felt it would send the wrong message about the ability of poor persons to make healthy choices).

Nonetheless, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue also noted,  “We don't want to be in the business of picking winners and losers among food products in the marketplace, or in passing judgment about the relative benefits of individual food products."  In doing so, he brought to light the fact that USDA has a long-standing role to protect and promote America’s agri-food industry. It sees SNAP as an integral part of stabilizing and supporting the retailing and food production industries. Just as former USDA Secretary Vilsack would famously claim conventional agriculture and organics to be his two sons, and that he would not be able to make a choice between them, Secretary Perdue sees USDA as creating a value-neutral big tent for the food industry.

His statement communicates the following message “Come on in. There’s room enough for y’all to make billions off SNAP. No judgment here.”

Unknown.jpeg

Analysis

It seems likely that USDA will continue to feel some pressure to change the nutritional profile of SNAP. The Bi-Partisan Policy Center will be issuing its recommendations in this matter in March, which most likely will include suggestions to exclude soda. Maine promises to come back with another waiver request, and other states will likely follow suit. For example, the Delaware legislature is currently considering a bill that would move forward a waiver request. And it has long been rumored that the House Agriculture Committee may include provisions that either mandate or incentivize such changes in its version of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Despite this pressure, one anonymous West Coast anti-hunger advocate sees a low likelihood that USDA will issue a soda-exclusion waiver. She believes that USDA’s focus on holding down program costs would preclude them from making the program more complicated to administer.  She also notes that most anti-hunger groups would be opposed to such a waiver under the current administration, as it would likely be punitive in nature, given the Trump administration’s antipathy toward the poor. The health impacts of increased poverty from potential SNAP cutbacks, to her, outweigh the risks of continued access to harmful foods and diets from the current program.

Given these factors, perhaps the only way to make SNAP a true nutrition program is to move it under the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services. This was attempted and failed in the 1970s, due to opposition from anti-hunger groups, who feared that doing so would break the links to the agriculture industry and result in funding cutbacks. The chance of doing so in the near future is virtually nil. To many anti-hunger groups, SNAP remains one of the last and most important anti-poverty programs in existence. They could only support it becoming a true nutrition program if Congress were to create and fund another major national welfare program, such as universal basic income. That seems a non-starter based on the current composition of the federal government.

So it appears that, for good or for bad, barring effective leadership in Congress, product exclusions in SNAP are stalemated until 2021 or beyond.  Incentives for healthy food may be another matter and subject for a future article.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corporate Welfare and SNAP in Ohio

Ten percent of Amazon employees in Ohio receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. This factoid has been ping-ponging across the Internet in the past week or two, since the release of an annual report by Policy Matters Ohio, revealing the top 50 employers of SNAP recipients. It’s data that USDA should collect and reveal annually, so we know which big corporations are subsidizing their costs of doing business with public tax dollars.

This story has legs because it shocks. Amazon can afford to pay its workers better, and certainly Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos can afford to share his wealth. Money magazine has identified him as the richest person on the planet, worth over $100 billion. We also think of Amazon as a tech firm, and tech firms typically pay well.  But Amazon is a low-cost retailer, growing its stake in the grocery business. In some ways, it should come as no surprise that its wage practices do not differ all that much from its main competitor, Walmart.

Thirteen and a half percent of Walmart employees in Ohio receive SNAP (13,932 employees and household members divided by the average of 2.02 persons per SNAP household equals 6,897 employees. Walmart reports 51,127 associates in the state). Extrapolated across Walmart’s 1.5 million associates in the U.S., this would indicate that 202,500 Walmart employees (or 409,050 Walmart employees and household members) receive SNAP benefits.  At an average benefit level of $125.99 per person, Walmart employee households receive an estimated $618.4 million in SNAP annually.

Walmart employee reliance on SNAP will likely decrease in 2018, as Walmart increases its starting wages to $11/hour. At this salary, an employee in the average two-person SNAP household working 40 hours per week would no longer be eligible for food stamps. Employees working 36.25 hours or less would however qualify be eligible for SNAP; Walmart considers 32 hours to be full-time employment.

Walmart also redeems a lot of SNAP benefits at the till. In 2014, it admitted to cashing in roughly $13 billion of SNAP, or roughly 18% of the total amount spent on the program.

From "SNAP Feeds Ohio" by Policy Matters Ohio. Ohio-only data.

From "SNAP Feeds Ohio" by Policy Matters Ohio. Ohio-only data.

Let’s be clear. SNAP is both individual and corporate welfare. It remains a vital part of the government’s responsibility to fulfill the right to food to the nation’s most vulnerable. As groups such as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and Food Research Action Center have accurately pointed out, it has played a key role in diminishing food insecurity. 

But when SNAP is used by businesses to avoid having to pay a living wage, when it reduces their cost of doing business, it becomes corporate welfare. Taxpayers subsidize the profits of some of the nation’s largest corporations. It is not just predatory retailers like Walmart and Amazon that feed at the public trough, but as seen in the table below from the Ohio study, much of the food industry. In fact, 30% of the total employees and household members receiving SNAP work at a supermarket or restaurant (excluding big box retailers such as Walmart and Target).

From "SNAP Feeds Ohio" by Policy Matters Ohio. Ohio-only data.

From "SNAP Feeds Ohio" by Policy Matters Ohio. Ohio-only data.

Interestingly, many of these employers who rely on SNAP to bolster their corporate profits have well-established partnerships with anti-hunger groups. In some cases, they (e.g Meijer, Walmart, Kroger) donate excess food to food banks, fund (e.g. Walmart) SNAP advocacy, provide (e.g. Target, Yum Brands – Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, Arby’s, and Subway) general contributions to the anti-hunger cause, or in the case of Wendy’s resist public pressure to accept the Fair Food Code of Conduct and pay farmworkers an extra penny per pound for winter tomatoes.  These contradictions are ones that the mainline anti-hunger groups would prefer to keep out of public view, as they expose the hunger-industrial complex. The answer is not to make sure that SNAP recipients work, as some in Congress suggest. Instead, it is to raise wages and regulate how companies shape part timers' schedules (so workers can piece together multiple part time jobs if desired) so that they can earn a fair living and don't need to receive SNAP in the first place. 

Labor Organizers HELP WALMART WORKERS GET Pay raises and PARENTAL LEAVE

Unknown.jpeg

Last week Walmart announced that they will raise the starting wage from $9 per hour to $11 per hour and provide 10 weeks of paid parental leave for full-time workers. They will also provide a one-time bonus averaging $400 for employees not eligible for a wage increase. Union of Food and Commercial Workers organizers point out that hourly wages for most workers will remain the same.

While Walmart has claimed that they are able to do so because of the recent tax cut, more prosaic reasons are likely: competition and good organizing.

  •  Target recently raised its starting wage to $11 per hour with a commitment to $15 per hour in 2020.
  • Since the launch of OUR Walmart’s (profiled in Big Hunger) campaign for $15 and full-time, Walmart has raised wages from the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour to $11 an hour. This move is especially important in the South, where most states follow the federal minimum wage.

OUR Walmart’s work was also essential in gaining paid family leave, albeit only for full time employees, as well.

According to Eddie Iny, Campaigns Director at OUR Walmart,  “In June 2017, with your support, OUR Walmart and supporters delivered over 100,000 signatures to Walmart Headquarters last year calling for the change to Walmart’s Paid Leave Policy.  The changes directly address the issues OUR Walmart, PL+US and others have raised: adding paternity coverage, adoptive parent benefits and parity with the policy provided to Walmart executives.“

These gains will undoubtedly improve the food security of many of Walmart’s 1.5 million associates. The ability of labor organizers to score these victories is all the more impressive given that no food bank nor major anti-hunger group, with the exception of WhyHunger, contributed in a meaningful way to making them happen.

Imagine what could be accomplished if Labor and Hunger stood together to fight for solutions that combined food security and economic justice!

 

 

Feeding America Loses its Third Leader in a Decade

 

Unknown.jpeg

 

On January 5, 2018 the Feeding America (FA) Board of Directors announced that its CEO Diana Aviv had resigned immediately for personal reasons. Ms. Aviv had been at Feeding America for two years. Previously, she had run the Independent Sector, a coalition of grantmakers and grantseekers. She was Feeding America’s third leader in the past ten years.

Ms. Aviv accomplished many positive changes at Feeding America during her short stint there, including:

  • Championing the need to address systemic issues related to poverty in order to end hunger
  • Enhancing the organization’s focus on health promotion through creating regional produce cooperatives.
  • Taking stances on policies and issues of the day, such as the Affordable Care Act repeal, tax reform, and Charlottesville protests, that they might not have taken prior to her arrival.

According to various food bankers, Ms. Aviv’s departure is not a repudiation of this new direction.  While the next CEO will certainly guide the organization’s direction, strong external forces, such as funders, are pushing Feeding America toward a greater focus on health and innovation.

As someone who has spent some time following Feeding America’s evolution (chronicled in Chapter 2 of Big Hunger), I encourage the organization’s Board of Directors to hire a leader who will take advantage of the following opportunities:

  • To change FA’s metrics and incentives away from promoting food charity toward activities that “shorten the line” and address the underlying causes of poverty.
  • To build its capacity to mobilize and take direction from a significant percentage of its constituents for meaningful policy advocacy to reduce hunger.
  • To fully address racial equity within the emergency food system in terms of leadership, and power dynamics between food banks, pantries and “clients.”
  • To stop threats to the nation’s entitlement programs, especially SNAP, in the next Farm Bill and beyond.
  • To reduce its conflict of interest from partnering with those corporations whose interests are antithetical to the organization’s mission (43% of its funding in 2016 came from corporate donations and promotions).
  • To better recognize and support the community building, economic development and food systems activities of food banks on a par with their food distribution activities.
  • To build on its current health focus by not only flooding the system with produce but also rejecting junk food from all manufacturers and retailers.
  • To modernize the structure of the organization in order to build its capacity to take direction from the grassroots while broadening its appeal to the next generation of leaders.
  • To embrace and lead an internal and public dialogue about the future of the emergency food system.

Feeding America’s next leader will have their work cut out for them. They will face a network of 200 food banks with extreme diversity in size, capacity, politics and strategic direction. As a membership organization, Feeding America is highly constrained in its ability to get out front of its members and provide leadership. It has some but not a lot of tools by which to incentivize food banks to follow its lead to create a much more effective anti-hunger movement.

Any new leader will need the Board’s leadership in restructuring the organization to make it more effective, sustainable, and appealing to a new generation of donors and activists. Otherwise, the organization will go the way of the United Way-- a distributor of corporate largesse and waste, at best irrelevant, at worst an impediment to the right to food in the US. 

The UK Part III: Analysis and Trends

The future of food banking in Britain remains quite uncertain. Here are some thoughts on how the situation compares to the US, and some ruminations on what the future holds.

·      Measurement. Unlike the US and Canada, Britain does not measure food insecurity. The End Hunger UK campaign is working with MP Emma Lewell-Buck to gain passage of legislation that would establish a national food insecurity measurement. Having this baseline of information will be useful to assess the scope of the problem. However, it will likely be a few years before a measurement is put in place and baseline data is gathered.

IMG_1894.jpg

·      Food waste. Unlike the US and Canada, Britain does not have extensive connection between food processors and retailers and food banks. There exist multiple competing entities – the Felix Project, FareShare, Real Junk Food Project, Company and Community Shops, that collect wasted food and distribute them to charities or sell them to the public through social supermarkets or pay as you feel cafes. It was quite inspiring to see advocates deliberately point out that the answers to food waste and food security were different things, as compared to the States, where they are typically conflated.

Real Junk Food Project's Social Supermarket in Pudsey, England

Real Junk Food Project's Social Supermarket in Pudsey, England

·      Hunger Industrial Complex. The relationships between food banks and Big Food and Agriculture are starting to take shape. FareShare is partnering with Coke in a holiday cause marketing partnership. Interestingly, Tesco, the largest supermarket chain in the country and one that is well-known for its abusive labor practices (similar to Walmart), has partnered with these two non-profits to promote sales of turkeys, cookies and other products through contributing a small percentage of sales to Trussell Trust and FareShare.

·      Stigma. Unlike the US, food banks are not normalized in the UK. Many people do not understand what they are, how they work, or what they provide. A theater troupe has even put on a play to educate the public about the trials and tribulations of people who rely on food banks. Many anti-hunger advocates, even those operating food banks, are outraged that food banks exist in as wealthy a nation as Britain. Food banks are caught between a growing demand for charitable food because of government austerity policies and a powerful aversion to the institutionalization of the emergency food system, which they fear would further encourage the shrinking of the government role in providing or the right to food.

WW II Era Poster

WW II Era Poster

·      Economic Crisis. The economy is humming along at near full employment, but food bank usage has soared in recent years according to Garry Lemon, the Communications Director for Trussell Trust. Lemon remains concerned that a recession with a corresponding spike in unemployment would overwhelm food banks, in part because Tory policies have slashed the safety net for the unemployed (and others). Brexit looms on the horizon for early 2019, and many analysts are expecting it to lead to decreases in GDP and a recession.

·      Food banks, Trump, and Brexit. In both the UK and the US, neoliberal policies that shrunk the role of the social safety net led to the explosion of food banking. In the US, it is not a stretch to say that anti-hunger advocates contributed to the election of Trump. In Rust Belt communities, they failed to address the loss of manufacturing jobs and the middle class wages that they provided. Instead, they offered two undesirable alternatives: food stamps and food banks, both of which are stigmatizing. As a result, many Rust Belt communities like my home county of Trumbull OH voted red for the first time in 44 years. In the UK, food banks are symbols of the economic dis-ease and insecurity felt as the Tory government slashes social programs. This insecurity was felt most strongly among those who supported Brexit: the less educated older and poorer voters. Perhaps not so ironically, this cohort also is an important part of Trump’s base. 

 

Putting the genie back in the bottle

Unlike Scotland, the English food advocates I met did not seem to think eliminating food banks in England was immediately feasible. The former director of the Trussell Trust was famously quoted, to much consternation, as saying that he wanted to establish a food bank in every town. The organization has backed off that vision, and is in a leadership transition right now. Garry Lemon, the newly hired communications director told me that he’d like to see food banks turned into community-based venues for people to gain skills and access services they need to leave poverty. But that’s his own personal vision, not the official line for the organization.

The future of food banking in Britain is uncertain and is heavily dependent on government policy and the leadership of key NGOs.

 

Under an expansion scenario:

The rollout of universal credit causes more acute poverty. Brexit results in economic contraction, and a sharp rise in unemployment. Britain imports some 30% of the value of its food; Brexit also causes the price of food to increase dramatically due to a weakened pound and potential trade barriers. Food banks continue to expand and institutionalize. All of these factors place more demands on food banks, which must adapt and expand their capacity. FareShare expands its food waste collection capacity with help from the Global Food Banking Network, and it begins to distribute surplus food into Trussell Trust and some independent food banks. Trussell Trust adjusts its model, encouraging sites to acquire refrigeration units so they can distribute perishable foods from FareShare. The Tory government increases its complicity with food banks, funding infrastructure, as they see food banks to be a relatively inexpensive way to address a growing food security crisis. Food banks increasingly come to resemble a North American model, further integrated into Tory social policy.

 

A contraction model

The Labor Party returns to power and reverses Tory social policy. Data on food insecurity is collected and released. The British public becomes outraged at the scale of the hunger problem and demands policy changes. Scotland is successful in gaining an effective end to food banking. Wales and Northern Ireland as other devolved nations  seek to repeat Scotland's successes. In England, the Trussell Trust announces its intention to downsize its food banking operations, setting a strategic goal of closing 50% of food banks within 5 years.  

 

Moving in a different direction

In a few years, the public has donor fatigue and its support for food banks slowly diminishes. The lessons of the progressive experiments in Scotland to bend down the food banking curve begin to be implemented in England. Trussell Trust begins to shift its food banking model toward a community food center model, based on the work of Community Food Centres of Canada. Its food banks take on more food system type activities, promote healthy eating, social capital, and policy advocacy. It continues to distribute free food but within the context of a more comprehensive approach.