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Thinking and acting outside the charitable food box: Hunger and the right to food in rich societies

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From a food-supply standpoint, the 30 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - the worlds rich club - can reasonably claim to be self-sufficient. Issues of food access are met through publicly funded social safety nets, and, for those who fall through the cracks, the emergency food-aid system, increasingly institutionalised as charitable food banks. Despite its best intentions, charitable food banking is very much a part of the problem of hunger in rich societies. While it makes a contribution to short-term relief, it is no guarantee of meeting demand, nor of ensuring nutritious or culturally appropriate foods. Its institutionalisation and corporatisation allow the public and politicians to believe that hunger is being solved. It reinforces the notion of hunger as a matter for charity, not politics. If there is to be a strong public commitment to eliminating hunger and reducing poverty in the wealthy states, there is an urgent need for governments to think and act outside this charitable food box. The human right to adequate food offers an alternative approach.
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Thinking and acting outside the
charitable food box: hunger and the
right to food in rich societies
Graham Riches
Published online: 29 Jun 2011.
To cite this article: Graham Riches (2011) Thinking and acting outside the charitable food box:
hunger and the right to food in rich societies, Development in Practice, 21:4-5, 768-775, DOI:
10.1080/09614524.2011.561295
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09614524.2011.561295
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Thinking and acting outside the
charitable food box: hunger and the
right to food in rich societies
Graham Riches
From a food-supply standpoint, the 30 member states of the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) the world’s rich club – can reasonably claim to be
self-sufficient. Issues of food access are met through publicly funded social safety nets, and,
for those who fall through the cracks, the emergency food-aid system, increasingly institutiona-
lised as charitable food banks. Despite its best intentions, charitable food banking is very much a
part of the problem of hunger in rich societies. While it makes a contribution to short-term relief,
it is no guarantee of meeting demand, nor of ensuring nutritious or culturally appropriate foods.
Its institutionalisation and corporatisation allow the public and politicians to believe that hunger
is being solved. It reinforces the notion of hunger as a matter for charity, not politics. If there is to
be a strong public commitment to eliminating hunger and reducing poverty in the wealthy states,
there is an urgent need for governments to think and act outside this charitable food box. The
human right to adequate food offers an alternative approach.
Penser et agir en dehors du carcan des dons caritatifs de nourriture : la faim et le droit a
`la
nourriture dans les socie
´te
´s riches
Du point de vue de l’approvisionnement en nourriture, les 30 E
´tats membres de l’Organisation de
coope
´ration et de de
´veloppement e
´conomiques (OCDE) – le club des pays riches du monde
peuvent raisonnablement affirmer qu’ils sont autosuffisants. Les proble
`mes relatifs a
`l’acce
`sa
`
la nourriture sont re
´solus au moyen de filets de se
´curite
´sociaux et, pour ceux qui passent
entre les mailles, gra
ˆce au syste
`me d’aide alimentaire d’urgence, de plus en plus institutionnalise
´
sous la forme de banques alimentaires. En de
´pit de ses meilleures intentions, le travail des
banques alimentaires caritatives fait vraiment partie du proble
`me de la faim dans les socie
´te
´s
riches. Bien qu’il apporte une contribution a
`l’aide a
`court terme, il ne garantit pas la satisfaction
de la demande, ni la fourniture d’aliments nutritifs ou culturellement approprie
´s. Son institution-
nalisation et sa transformation en activite
´d’entreprises permettent a
`l’opinion et aux personna-
lite
´s politiques de penser qu’il est facile de re
´soudre le proble
`me de la faim. Il renforce la notion
de faim comme un sujet laisse
´a
`la charite
´, pas a
`la politique. Si l’on veut qu’il y ait un fort engage-
ment public a
`e
´liminer la faim et a
`re
´duire la pauvrete
´dans les E
´tats riches, il est ne
´cessaire, de
toute urgence, que les gouvernements pensent et agissent en dehors de ce carcan des dons car-
itatifs de nourriture. Le droit humain a
`une quantite
´suffisante de nourriture donne une autre
approche possible.
768 ISSN 0961-4524 Print/ISSN 1364-9213 Online 4 50768-8 #2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09614524.2011.561295 Routledge Publishing
Development in Practice, Volume 21, Numbers 4 5, June 2011
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Pensando e agindo de fora do banco de alimentos humanita
´rio: fome e direito a alimentos em
sociedades ricas
A partir de uma posic¸a
˜o de abastecimento de alimentos, os 30 estados-membro da Organizac¸a
˜o
para Cooperac¸a
˜o e Desenvolvimento Econo
ˆmico (OCDE) – clube mais rico do mundo – podem
razoavelmente alegar que sa
˜o autossuficientes. Questo
˜es sobre acesso a alimentos podem ser tra-
tadas atrave
´s de redes de seguranc¸a sociais financiadas publicamente e, no caso daqueles que
sa
˜o negligenciados, atrave
´s do sistema de ajuda alimentar emergencial, cada vez mais institu-
cionalizado como bancos de alimentos humanita
´rios. Apesar das suas melhores intenc¸o
˜es, o
banco de alimentos humanita
´rio e
´uma parte representativa do problema da fome em sociedades
ricas. Embora ele de
ˆuma contribuic¸a
˜o para o alı
´vio da fome no curto prazo, na
˜o ha
´garantia de
que ele atenda a demanda nem que garanta alimentos nutritivos ou culturalmente apropriados.
Sua institucionalizac¸a
˜o e organizac¸a
˜o permitem que o pu
´blico e polı
´ticos acreditem que a fome
esta
´sendo solucionada. Ele reforc¸a a noc¸a
˜o da fome como uma questa
˜o de caridade, na
˜o de polı
´-
tica. Para que haja um compromisso pu
´blico so
´lido para a eliminac¸a
˜o da fome e reduc¸a
˜o da
pobreza nos estados ricos, os governos precisam urgentemente pensar e agir fora deste banco
de alimentos humanita
´rio. O direito humano a alimentos adequados oferece uma abordagem
alternativa.
Pensar y actuar de manera novedosa sobre la alimentacio
´n humanitaria: el hambre y el
derecho a la alimentacio
´n en paı
´ses ricos
Los 30 paı
´ses integrantes de la Organizacio
´n para la Cooperacio
´n y el Desarrollo Econo
´mico
(OCDE) tienen motivos para afirmar que son autosuficientes en cuanto a acceso a alimentos.
Los problemas de acceso a alimentos los resuelven con programas sociales pu
´blicos y para
los indigentes desarrollan programas de alimentacio
´n de emergencia cada vez ma
´s instituciona-
lizados, con cocinas donde se ofrecen alimentos gratuitos. A pesar de las buenas intenciones, las
cocinas gratuitas son sin duda parte del problema del hambre en los paı
´ses ricos. Si bien ayudan a
aliviar el problema a corto plazo, no resuelven la demanda y no aseguran una buena nutricio
´n ni
el uso de alimentos adecuados a la cultura. La institucionalizacio
´n y la corporativizacio
´n del
hambre permiten que el pu
´blico y los polı
´ticos crean que el problema se esta
´resolviendo.
Tambie
´n contribuyen a difundir la idea de que el hambre es un asunto de caridad y apolı
´tico.
Un compromiso pu
´blico firme para eliminar el hambre y reducir la pobreza en los paı
´ses ricos
significarı
´a que los gobiernos concibieran el problema de manera radicalmente diferente y
actuaran en consecuencia. El derecho humano a una alimentacio
´n adecuada es un marco de
referencia alternativo.
KEY WORDS: Governance and public policy; Rights; North America; Western and Southern Europe
With hunger in developing countries now reaching the level of a global crisis (ActionAid
International 2009), perhaps it is missing the point to analyse charitable food relief in
today’s rich societies, let alone describe its recipients as hungry. Surely there is little connection
between the scale and severity of hunger confronting the 1.02 billion people (FAO 2008) eking
out an existence on less than US$1.25 a day or dying of starvation in countries of the South with
people defined as food-insecure who live in developed market economies. Nonetheless, the
statistics are cause for concern, with 49 million people in the USA now food-insecure (BFW
2009), and 43 million at risk of food poverty in the European Union (Stuart 2009).
From a food-supply standpoint, the majority of the 30 member states of the OECD can
reasonably claim to be self-sufficient in food through domestic production or food imports;
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their subsidised systems of agriculture produce huge food surpluses; problems of food access
are met through publicly funded income-security systems and social safety nets; and for
those who fall through the cracks, the emergency food-aid system, increasingly institutionalised
as charitable food banks, is ready with food handouts and meal programmes. Indeed, many
developing countries might well admire and seek to emulate such policies and programmes.
Despite recent increased household food-insecurity in the North (households worried by the
affordability of food; unable to purchase the food of their choice; or unable to put food on
the table), access to food in wealthy societies is not regarded as a matter of political concern.
There is a broad public perception that charitable food banking is the effective and efficient
anti-hunger programme of last resort.
The growth and institutionalisation of charitable food banking
The first US food bank was formed in Phoenix, Arizona in 1967. It grew into a national network
(Feeding America, formerly called America’s Second Harvest), now feeding 25 million people
annually. The Canadian Association of Food Banks (now Food Banks Canada) was set up in
1985, and by 2009 781 food banks fed 794,738 people a month, an 18 per cent increase over
2008 (FBC 2009). In 1984 the first food bank was formed in France. Two years later, the
European Federation of Food Banks was created; today it has 17 national federations feeding
4.6 million people. Food banking arrived in New Zealand in the early 1980s, and in 1994 the
Melbourne Food Bank in Australia was officially opened. The first decade of the twenty-first
century has seen food banks established in the fast-growth economies of East Asia Hong
Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and China with the Global Food Banking Network supporting the
development of food banks in countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and the UK.
Clearly charitable food banking is international in scope (Riches 2009). It has also been
strongly corporatised by the global food industry for example, Campbell Soups, ConAgra
Foods, Cargill, Kraft, and Nestle
´, whose representatives sit on the boards of national food-
bank organisations and it operates in the First World as a system parallel to that of food
aid to developing countries.
The reasons for this expansion over four decades are in many ways country-specific, and it
may be misleading to present generalised explanations. The persistence, increase, and depth of
hunger and household food-insecurity in the world’s rich societies seem rooted not so much in
the failure of food supply but in unacceptable levels of poverty and social inequality, and in
particular in the failure of public policy: weak systems of food and income distribution; under-
funded social welfare; and the lack of affordable public housing to reach those most in need.
One either pays the rent and goes hungry or goes homeless and ends up dependent on charitable
food handouts. Neo-liberal agendas have led to severe cutbacks in tax-funded social policy. In
the 1980s and 1990s this has fallen off political agendas as a result of market-based welfare
reforms and campaigns of disentitlement. Welfare rolls were cut, eliminating those out of
work or unable to train.
Some may argue that philanthropic food banking is a pragmatic expression of the community
and the corporate sector recognising and responding to emergency food needs. Better the
compassionate community than the heartless bureaucratic state. The food industry appears to
reflect the social legitimacy of such charity, as well as a perceived public confidence in its
effectiveness and efficiency.
Yet, from the perspective of human rights and public policy, is such confidence warranted?
Or is it rather the case that charitable food banking has increasingly become part of the problem,
rather than the solution? There is a growing body of evidence that the recent food-price shocks
and global recession have deepened the divide between the food-secure and the undernourished
770 Development in Practice, Volume 21, Numbers 4 5, June 2011
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and hungry poor (see, for example, FAO 2008). If rich countries fail to recognise food
inequality and the limits of food charity in their own backyards, how might they support the
poorest nations of the world in achieving food security?
In searching for alternative policies and strategies, why not look to ‘the right to food’
approach adopted by the UN FAO Council in 2004? How effective and efficient is private
philanthropy as an ameliorative response to hunger and the denial of food and nutrition as
fundamental human rights? Should we not be asking whether charitable food banks are
symptoms and symbols not only of broken social safety nets but also of failing food and
income redistribution policies? In the North, as well as the South, we need to be thinking
and acting outside the charitable food-aid box.
This is certainly a challenging task. The legacy of a generation of neo-liberalism extolling the
virtues of market-driven economic growth through privatisation, deregulated international
finance, and minimal government has resulted in the mainstream public regarding itself
primarily as ‘me-first’ consumers and hard-done-by taxpayers, rather than as socially respon-
sible citizens with expectations that governments have public obligations to address the food
rights of those unable to command an adequate standard of living.
The social construction of hunger as a matter for charity
This is not to say that well-meaning persons, churches, farmers, and corporate food giants
should not give their time, money, and surplus or wasted food to feed the hungry. Rather it
is important to recognise that such altruistic actions consistently reinforce public attitudes
that hunger is an individual or family problem and a matter for charity, rather than a structural
or human-rights issue and a deeply political question. In Canada, the role played by the media in
socially constructing hunger as a matter primarily for charitable action is problematic, with the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the public broadcaster, sponsoring charitable food-bank
drives around Thanksgiving and Christmas. This at least tacitly gives political support to
those who understand hunger as a matter for charity and not a political question requiring
state action.
Part of the solution?
Perhaps this question would not be so important if it could be demonstrated that charitable
food banking was part of the longer-term solution to hunger. In many of the world’s richest
countries it appears that such charitable actions enjoy public support. Food banks collect,
store, and redistribute donations of surplus or wasted food directly to hungry people in food
lines or indirectly through soup kitchens or other social agencies who offer refuge to the
homeless, the unemployed, and the working poor. They also receive cash donations to
purchase food. With corporate sponsorship and control, food banking has literally become
big business.
Food banks would argue that their function is to ameliorate and not solve the hunger problem;
they are economically and environmentally efficient in that they recycle surplus and wasted
food; they act upon the moral and religious imperative to feed hungry people; and they
engage practical compassion, demonstrating community altruism by bringing together
individual voluntarism with corporate social responsibility. Such philanthropic action not
only alleviates emergency food needs but assists in keeping down the costs of such relief to
government.
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Part of the problem?
While food banking may ameliorate food insecurity, is its real function to allow us to believe
that hunger is being solved? Further questions come to mind. Bearing in mind that 50 per cent
of all food in the US supply chain is lost each year, to say nothing of the annual 20 million
tonnes of food waste in the UK (Stuart 2009: xvi), what are the ethics of supermarkets recycling
surplus food when the pricing structures of the globalised food industry are responsible for
creating significant food wastage in the first place? How acceptable is it to present the face
of corporate social responsibility (CSR) when the availability of such significant amounts of
‘free’ food has resulted from market practices which generate huge profits for the food
companies while leaving family farmers with low incomes and poor consumers unable to
purchase nutritious food?
Likewise from an ethical standpoint what thought has been given to the stigma of being on
the receiving end of charity? Why not instead participate in campaigns to raise the minimum
wage and secure adequate social-security benefits so that the poor can go into a food shop
like anyone else and choose their own food? Interestingly, a recent study of the relationship
between welfare incomes and food-bank usage in Canada shows that a 10 per cent cut in
welfare benefits increases food-bank usage by 14 per cent (Goldberg and Green 2009).
In terms of practical effectiveness and efficiency, 35 per cent of Canadian food banks
consistently report that they are unable to meet demand and must occasionally ration food
(CAFB 2008). Nor are they able to guarantee the nutritional quality of their food, and structu-
rally they lack the capacity, even with corporate support and significant volunteer (i.e. free)
labour, to respond to deep-rooted food and income inequality.
More serious questions concern the hidden functions of charitable food banking, such as
dependency. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Canada’s poorest urban postal district, is one
example. In this neighbourhood, the unintended consequence of unacceptable levels of home-
lessness, inadequate social housing, and numerous street shelters is the creation of an urban food
desert where it is not possible to find a thriving local food market selling affordable and nutri-
tious food. Reliance on charitable food aid has become the norm and is now publicly accepted.
As food banks continue to prop up under-funded social safety nets, they reinforce in the
public mind the ‘Poor Law’ model of Victorian welfare charity. Charitable food banking
permits governments of rich countries to look the other way, falsely assuming that charitable
food relief is an adequate response to food insecurity.
Thinking outside the box: the right to food
The human right to adequate food (RTF) offers an alternative model, rooted in international
law. It provides practical guidance for achieving food security in poor and rich countries
alike (see FAO 2005).
As Mary Robinson has observed, ‘the right to food is not about giving away free food to
everyone’ (2004). Unlike charitable food banking, the RTF is underpinned by ideas of social
justice and legal and political commitments. It comprises three types of obligations. The first
is a set of internationally agreed standards, rights, responsibilities, and practical guidelines.
These are embodied and widely recognised in international law, including the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (ICESCR 1966), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1992);
World Food Summits (1974, 1996, and 2002); General Comment 12 of the UN Committee
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR 1999) which, drawing on expert opinion,
clarified the meaning of the RTF; the right-to-food ‘Voluntary Guidelines’ (FAO 2005)
772 Development in Practice, Volume 21, Numbers 4 5, June 2011
Graham Riches
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which offer practical ways to implement the RTF in the context of achieving national food
security; and the Cordoba Declaration on the Right to Food and the Governance of the
Global Food and Agricultural Systems (FIAN 2008).
General Comment 12 of the UN CESRC defines the RTF as being realised ‘when every man,
woman and child, alone or in community with others, have physical and economic access at
all times to adequate food or the means for its procurement’ (CESCR 1999). Its core content
implies the ‘availability of food in quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs
of individuals’; food ‘free from adverse substances’ and ‘acceptable within a given culture’;
and ‘the accessibility of such food in ways that are sustainable and that do not interfere with
the enjoyment of other human rights’. There are cross-cutting rights to nutrition, to water;
and women’s and Aboriginal rights are also encompassed.
Notably, 160 nation states, though not the USA, have ratified the RTF in international law.
These governments, parties to the ICESCR (and other conventions), are ultimately accountable
for ensuring compliance (domestically and internationally) with their obligations to ‘respect,
protect and fulfil’ the RTF (see FAO 2005). Respect means refraining from interfering directly
or indirectly with the enjoyment of the RTF, that is not taking any measures such as denying or
cutting welfare benefits that result in preventing access to adequate food. Protect means taking
measures that prevent third parties from interfering with RTF, in other words ensuring food
safety and land reform. Fulfil comprises two elements: to facilitate the RTF by adopting
appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, and promotional activities such as
education, employment, and social-insurance policies which are proactively directed
at enabling people to secure their own livelihoods; and to provide assistance or services for
vulnerable peoples unable to secure their own livelihoods, through establishing adequate
social safety nets.
The central message is that governments are obliged to have in place coherent and ‘joined-
up’ national food policies (see Barling et al. 2003). These address the sustainability of food
production, supply, and safety, and the performance of local food economies. They connect
food distribution and access with income security, universal healthcare, child care, public
housing, and social safety nets. In those societies where such policies are lacking or too
narrowly targeted, hunger and food insecurity will be a likely consequence as is the case
in wealthy countries where charitable food banking is now established as big business.
A second set of obligations encompasses the ‘justiciability’ of the right to food. This means that
a right is only a right if it can be claimed. To date, RTF has not been entrenched in the consti-
tutions of wealthy nation-states. Perhaps the Nordic welfare states are important exceptions,
with Norway writing the language of the ICESCR into its domestic legislation (Evju 2009).
The government of Finland, unlike those of Canada and the USA, has reportedly been embar-
rassed by the introduction of charitable food banks since the late 1990s. Giving the RTF the
full force of the law would require constitutional amendments, legislative endorsement, and
the power of the judiciary, including the courts, human-rights commissions, and benefit tribunals.
For a number of reasons this remains highly controversial. Civil and political rights are
broadly accepted, but many policy makers see economic, social, and cultural rights (such as
the RTF) as ‘vague, discretionary’, and not lending ‘themselves to enforcement’ (Evju 2009:
83). These rights are also more likely to challenge private-market ideology and require govern-
ments to intervene more than they might wish in the economy. Governments rarely like being
dictated to by the courts. However, if all human rights are indivisible (what use is freedom of
expression if one is too weakened by hunger to speak?), then the justiciability of the RTF cannot
be denied. In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the
ICESCR, which provides judicial relief to individuals at the international level under certain
circumstances (UN GA 2008).
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The third set of options has regard to the obligations of society as whole. The Voluntary
Guidelines of the FAO on the RTF recognise that civil society organisations and corporations
are essential stakeholders in supporting the progressive realisation of the right to food (FAO
2005). The world’s wealthy countries are not likely to see beyond food charity until the
charitable food industry itself acts on its public legitimacy, and becomes both ‘collaborative
(through civic cooperation) and adversarial (through social criticism and political opposition)’
(Dre
`ze and Sen 1989: vii). Once such public pressure leads Northern governments to comply
with their international obligations and make full use of existing practical guidelines to
achieve domestic food security, then those governments will actually practise the ‘good
governance’ that they preach to the South.
What needs to be recognised by all who donate surplus or wasted food, by the public and
governments alike, at home and overseas, is that hunger is caused by ‘insufficient political
will to address key food security concerns, structural problems and weak governance’
(ActionAid International 2009). In the rich and poor worlds, compassion is insufficient
without social justice, political action, and the full realisation of human rights.
References
ActionAid International (2009) ‘UN Conference: Starvation a “World Emergency”’, Digital Journal,
Rome, 15 October, www.digitaljournal.com/article/280536 (retrieved 1 December 2009).
Barling, D., T. Lang, and M. Caraher (2003) ‘Joined-up food policy? The trials of governance, public
policy and the food system’, in E. Dowler and C. Jones Finer (eds.), The Welfare of Food: Rights and
Responsibilities in a Changing World, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
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Institute, www.bread.org/learn/us-hunger-issues/food-security/?utm_source=donation&utm_medium=
email&utm_campaign=generalC (retrieved 1 December 2009).
CAFB (Canadian Association of Food Banks) (2008) Hunger Count Survey, 2008, Toronto: Canadian
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`ze, J. and A. Sen (1989) Hunger and Public Action, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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Riches, G. (2009) ‘Right to food within Canada: international obligations, domestic compliance’, in
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774 Development in Practice, Volume 21, Numbers 4 5, June 2011
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Robinson, M. (2004) ‘Ethics, Globalization and Hunger: In Search of Appropriate Policies’, Keynote
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The author
Graham Riches is Professor Emeritus in the School of Social Work, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, BC, Canada, and the author of numerous books, chapters, and articles on hunger and the
right to food in the North. ,graham.riches@ubc.ca.
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Thinking and acting outside the charitable food box
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... Several studies (Riches, 1997;Riches and Silvasti, 2014a) have argued that hunger in high-income countries could not be caused by the lack of provision of sufficient food and nutrients, but rather was a matter of distributive justice and human rights and the damaging impact of neoliberal economic ideology on the right to food of the most vulnerable people. Janet Poppendieck (1999) argues that the proliferation of charity contributes to the failure of society to deal with poverty, and creates a culture that normalizes destitution and legitimizes personal generosity as responses to the great social and economic dislocation. ...
... Spending on food is the most flexible part of vulnerable people's budgets (Riches, 1997), and people living below the minimum income threshold, turn to food aid in kind so as to be able to devote their scant resources to non-food needs (Tarasuk and MacLean, 1990: 331), and not only targets the homeless or refugees from the richest countries, but increasingly people with jobs and housing, but who face sudden or continuous uncertainties (Dowler and O'Connor, 2012: 48). In 2019, the European Food Banks Federation assisted 9.5 million deprived people in 24 countries (FEBA, 2020a). ...
Book
Full-text available
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals saw the global community agree to end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. However, the number of chronically undernourished people is increasing continuously. Ongoing climate change and the action needed to adapt to it are very likely to aggravate this situation by limiting agricultural land and water resources and changing environmental conditions for food production. Climate change and the actions it requires raise questions of justice, especially regarding food security. These key concerns of ethics and justice for food security due to climate change challenges are the focus of this book, which brings together work by scholars from a wide range of disciplines and a multitude of perspectives. These experts discuss the challenges to food security posed by mitigation, geoengineering, and adaptation measures that tackle the impacts of climate change. Others address the consequences of a changing climate for agriculture and food production and how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected food security and animal welfare.
... Several studies (Riches, 1997;Riches and Silvasti, 2014a) have argued that hunger in high-income countries could not be caused by the lack of provision of sufficient food and nutrients, but rather was a matter of distributive justice and human rights and the damaging impact of neoliberal economic ideology on the right to food of the most vulnerable people. Janet Poppendieck (1999) argues that the proliferation of charity contributes to the failure of society to deal with poverty, and creates a culture that normalizes destitution and legitimizes personal generosity as responses to the great social and economic dislocation. ...
... Spending on food is the most flexible part of vulnerable people's budgets (Riches, 1997), and people living below the minimum income threshold, turn to food aid in kind so as to be able to devote their scant resources to non-food needs (Tarasuk and MacLean, 1990: 331), and not only targets the homeless or refugees from the richest countries, but increasingly people with jobs and housing, but who face sudden or continuous uncertainties (Dowler and O'Connor, 2012: 48). In 2019, the European Food Banks Federation assisted 9.5 million deprived people in 24 countries (FEBA, 2020a). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
https://www.wageningenacademic.com/doi/abs/10.3920/978-90-8686-915-2_65 The status that charitable food aid resources have attained and the loss of responsibility by the Welfare State for the right to food undermines the latter doubly. In a first step, retrenchment and austerity reduce its operational space, which weakens it in its functions in the face of food insecurity. In a second step, the effect of charitable food aid resources undermines the idea about its redistributive function, which has been a basis for its legitimacy. The main hypothesis of this work is that this double undermining of the welfare state is constantly reinforced. It defends, through a logical-critical reflection based on specialized bibliography, that charitable food aid resources are a threat to the fundamental ethos of the welfare state, to its ability to respond to collective problems. The retrenchment and the austerity have strengthened the charitable food resources. Organizationally, the fact of not reaching the objective for which they arose, that is to say, ending food insecurity, paradoxically, reinforces them. Therefore, situations such as those triggered by Covid reinforce them even more. Closing the circle of dynamics, the effects of the work of these resources, where collective solidarity is channelled away from the traditional public redistributive mechanisms, represents a new motive of erosion. The main conclusion is that this phenomenon generates feelings of guilt or shame, and stigmatizes the recipients of food aid. It expels these people in vulnerable situations from the normalized consumption circuit. On the other hand, the institutionalization of food aid resources distracts from the origin of poverty, hides the true reasons for food need. Despite all this, it is important to bear in mind that it is the only resource available to many food-insecure people.
... As program managers of public and charitable safety net programs respond to long-term financial effects of the pandemic, they are encouraged to think across systems. It has been argued that charitable food exacerbates poverty and food insecurity because it undermines support for public safety net programs [58][59][60]. Recent policy changes prompted by COVID-19-for example, temporarily expanding SNAP benefits-as well as increased pressure on the charitable food system [61,62], provide an opportunity to re-think the long-term relationship among and between the types of safety nets, and to increase income assistance-not just nutrition assistance-that will make people less dependent on pantries. ...
Article
Full-text available
The financial crisis associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity in the United States. The emergency provides an opportunity to re-think the American nutrition-assistance system. In this paper, we describe findings from a community-based project conducted in urban Alaska before the pandemic in collaboration with a local food pantry. We conducted semi-structured interviews with nineteen food recipients, half of them twice, about how they procure food and prepare their meals in the context of juggling other expenses and demands on their time. What participants in our study do fits mainstream American patterns. Our study adds to the knowledge base by focusing on how families think strategically about their situations in context. In addition to cost, participants take nutrition and flavor into account. Most importantly, they do not think about assistance programs in isolation but holistically.
... While food banks and food charities can act as a stopgap, it is argued by many that it is not a sustainable and ethical model for long-term support. Academics such as Lambie-Mumford [3,4,5,6], Loopstra [7,8] and Riches [9,10] and third sector practitioners argue that the increased dependence on food banks as a social policy solution does not address the root causes of food insecurity. In fact, current debate indicates that food bank reliance makes it so ethical and sustainable social policy is not created, as the third sector has 'filled the gap' sufficiently, allowing governments and other institutions to avoid responsibility for policy creation. ...
Article
The pandemic has resulted in increased social needs and risks that have immediately challenged the ability of social policies to ensure adequate protection. The article focuses on local welfare responses to this crisis with the purpose of understanding whether and how local institutions, actors and communities reorganised. It also discusses the factors likely to favour or weaken the capacity for local social action and innovation in both current and future context. The analysis of the institutional and social actors’ responses originated in the city of Milan suggests that the pandemic has exerted strong pressure on local welfare actors and policies for the adoption of socially innovative modes of action and governance. This highlights at the same time some of the key features of recent welfare developments in Milan and, more broadly, the problems and potential of local welfare from a social innovation perspective.
Article
In Australia, like many high-income countries, food insecurity is associated with increased risks of chronic diseases, sub-optimal development outcomes in children, and mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. Food insecure households employ a range of strategies, including the use of food charity, to help alleviate hunger and meet cost of living pressures. The aim of this paper is to investigate the lived experience of food insecurity for welfare-dependent households, and to examine these experiences within a structural violence framework. Structural violence investigations seek to understand the distal causal factors that can help explain poor health patterns and inequities. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with customers (n = 78) of food pantries, soup kitchens, and community development programs (June 2018 to January 2019) in the state of Victoria, Australia. Thematic analysis established evidence of controlling, demeaning and depriving practices in the interactions between the participants and the services and staff at national welfare providers and food charities. The same providers and charities nominally set up to address the exact situations in which participants found themselves. The findings of this study suggest that food and social services are an on-the-ground setting through which structural violence is enacted and experienced.
Article
Full-text available
In recent decades, Canada has consistently failed to uphold basic human rights, including the right to food. This has caused widespread and persistent household food insecurity (HFI) which has become a serious, albeit overlooked, public health concern. Working from a political economic perspective, this article situates HFI within the context of the poverty resulting from neoliberal “rollbacks” to the welfare state. The majority of community and policy responses to HFI focus on the production or redistribution of food, which misses the underlying issue of inadequate income. These responses may even perpetuate food insecurity by offloading safety net functions onto corporations and communities that cannot compensate for welfare programs. In order to strengthen income-based responses to food insecurity, we recommend policy interventions under the “right to food” framework, which places primary responsibility on the state. But unlike traditionally legal conceptions of the right to food, we emphasize its utility as a tool for mobilizing civil society, which is a powerful yet underutilized source of accountability to state obligations. This approach therefore combines political action with policymaking, and civil society with senior governments, in the collective realization of the right to food.
Article
Full-text available
El texto que presentamos se centra en el impacto que la crisis económica ha tenido en la situación de precarización alimentaria de las familias monoparentales, las familias migrantes y las personas mayores en Barcelona, y en las estrategias que están desarrollando para hacerle frente. También analiza las respuestas que se articulan en la ciudad, el efecto de estas prácticas en el bienestar de las personas y la incidencia que tienen en la transformación de las desigualdades existentes en materia alimentaria. En este contexto, se plantea la importancia de reflexionar conjuntamente entre todos los actores, a través de nuevas formas-espacios conversacionales, que permiten repensar la ayuda alimentaria desde una diversidad de lugares; para construir conjuntamente soluciones que apelen a la responsabilidad colectiva y permitan el acceso igualitario de las personas a una alimentación que sea de calidad y adaptada socioculturalmente.
Article
To address the policy malfunctions of the recent past and present, UK food policy needs to link policy areas that in the past have been dealt with in a disparate manner, and to draw on a new ecological public health approach. This will need a shift within the dominant trade liberalization–national economic competitiveness paradigm that currently informs UK food policy, and the international levels of the EU and the WTO trade rules, and grants the large corporate players in the food system a favoured place at the policy–making tables. The contradictions of the food system have wrought crises that have engendered widespread institutional change at all levels of governance. Recent institutional reforms to UK food policy, such as the FSA and DEFRA, reflect a bounded approach to policy integration. Initiatives seeking a more integrated approach to food policy problems, such as the Social Exclusion Unit’s access to shops report, and the Policy Commission on the Future of Food and Farming, can end up confined to a particular policy sector framed by particular interests—a process of “policy confinement”. However, the UK can learn from the experience of Norway and Finland who have found their own routes to a more joined–up approach to public health and a sustainable food supply by, for example, introducing a national food policy council to provide integrated policy advice. Also, at the local and community levels in the UK, policy alternatives are being advanced in an ad hoc fashion by local food initiatives. More structural–level interventions at the regional and local governance levels are also needed to address the social dimensions of a sustainable food supply
Article
Paperback repr Bibliogr. s. 281-357
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