The Food Ethics Council suggest that over 4 million people in the UK are affected by food poverty – people who either simply cannot afford enough good quality food in order to sustain themselves and their family. Food goes hand in had with obesity and a variety of illnesses that come with poor nutrition, as the cheap foods available are often high in sugar, high in fat and full of preservatives.
As the name suggests, it goes hand in hand with economic poverty. Week to week and month to month bills, rent and debts must be paid and in many cases the only room for manoeuvre in a family budget is food. In such a situation fresh food is substituted for frozen and cheap calories are chased at the expense of nutrients.
Other factors that influence food poverty include access to transport or social isolation. If a family has no access to transport they may be forced to shop at expensive corner shops, while an elderly woman may be unable to leave her house due to mobility issues. Students may not have the life skills to budget and prepare food while others lack the time to prepare fresh food.
‘Food poverty is worse diet, worse access, worse health, higher percentage of income on food and less choice from a restricted range of foods. Above all food poverty is about less or almost no consumption of fruit & vegetables’
Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London.
It links in with the ongoing issue of fuel poverty – commentators talk of the decision to ‘heat or eat’, when there’s not enough money to heat the house. Food banks have become a fact of life, often providing a life–saving safety net for anyone unfortunate enough to fall between the gaps. What was once an emergency stop gap has now become a day to day necessity – a situation that is not sustainable.
When you take into account the amount of waste generated by the food industry then the situation turns from tragedy into farce. The reduced food we see in the supermarket is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to waste. Tons of irregularly shaped fruit and veg are discarded as supermarkets demand uniform produce for their shelves, while a wet summer can lead to a mass of barbeque supplies going to waste.
And while it would be easy to blame the supermarkets for the problem, it is estimated that at least 50% of food waste is generated in the home. Poor portion control can lead to prepared food being binned, while sloppy storage and shopping often equals produce being thrown out before it has even seen the inside of an oven.
Confusion between ‘sell by’, ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates can lead to food being discarded before it turns. While busy lifestyles mean leftovers lie until spoilt, adding a health hazard.
The challenge we face is not one of lack – there is more than enough food produced – but one of co–ordinating supply and demand. By no means is this a simple task, but a vital one.