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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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... Food banks began as a community response to food needs during the 1980s in the context of economic recession and neoliberal reductions in social safety nets. Since then, they have become institutionalized, as there has not been a strong Canadian policy response to food insecurity (Loopstra & Tarasuk, 2012;Riches, 2011). Only 21.1% of food insecure households in Canada access food banks; these families appear to have lower incomes generally, and are thus more likely to seek assistance from community agencies or social assistance than the food insecure households that do not access food banks (Tarasuk et al., 2019). ...
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Food insecurity increased in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic; in the Yukon Territory, the Whitehorse Food Bank saw its scope increase sig­nificantly as smaller Yukon communities were requesting deliveries of food while travel restrictions were in place. In this qualitative study, the researchers conducted semi-structured inter­views with food bank clients in Whitehorse and two smaller Yukon communities, as well as repre­sentatives of other organizations that were involved in community food security initiatives. The results revealed five main themes emerging from shared client experiences and impacts from the pandemic: emphasis on the hamper as core food on an ongoing basis, the importance of tradi­tional foods, food insecurity and access, the role of the Whitehorse Food Bank in supporting informal networks in communities, and ideal food situations that focused on an abundance of fresh and land-based foods. The results show some contrast between needs in Whitehorse and needs in smaller, more remote Yukon communities. Because of lim­ited access to fresh foods in communities outside of Whitehorse, merely increasing income supports would not completely alleviate food insecurity for these participants, who they lack physical access as well as economic access to fresh, preferred foods.
... In Canada, as in most high-income countries, food donation programs, often implemented as local food banks offering food baskets for free or at a symbolic price, are the cornerstone of the societal response to HFI [10,11]. Whether this represents an adequate solution to HFI is debated [10,[12][13][14]. Some argue that food donation might offer temporary relief and should be one component of a more comprehensive food security system [15]; in addition, it may act as a point of entry to a broader range of capacity-building programs to help households escape or mitigate the impact of poverty. ...
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Background While considerable research has been conducted on household food insecurity (HFI), little research has examined the effects of food donation programs on users’ living conditions. The Pathways study was established to investigate the long-term effects of food donation programs on food insecurity as well as other critical outcomes, such as diet, health, and social support. Herein, we describe the design of the Pathways Study and the participants’ characteristics at baseline. Methods The Pathways study is a prospective cohort study of 1001 food-aid users in Quebec (Canada). We recruited newly registered users of food donation programs from 106 community-based food-aid organizations that partnered with the study. Baseline data were collected through face-to-face interviews from September 2018 to January 2020, with planned follow-up interviews at 12 and 24 months after enrollment. Household food insecurity, diet, food competencies, food shopping behaviors, perceived food environment, health status, social support and isolation, sociodemographic characteristics, housing conditions, negative life events, and the impacts of COVID-19 were assessed with validated questionnaires. Results The cohort included 1001 participants living in rural ( n = 181), semi-urban ( n = 250), and urban areas ( n = 570). Overall, household food insecurity was reported as severe among 46.2% and moderate in 36.9% of participants. Severe household food insecurity was more prevalent in rural (51.4%) and urban (47.8%) areas compared to semi-urban (39%) areas. Overall, 76.1% of participants reported an annual income below C$20,000. Half (52%) had low education levels (high school or lower), 22.0% lived in single-parent households, and 52.1% lived alone. Most (62.9%) experienced at least one major financial crisis in the preceding year. Conclusions Results show that newly registered users of food donation programs often have low-income and severe food insecurity, with major differences across geographical locations. The Pathways study is the first study designed to follow, over a 2-year period, a cohort of newly registered users of food donation programs and to quantify their trajectories of service use. Findings from the Pathways study might help adapt the community response to the strategies used by food-insecure households to feed themselves.
... Food banks have been discussed with a view of deficiency in volume to respond unfailingly and fully to the food wishes of the abundant society using them (Tarasuk & Beaton, 1999;Tarasuk & Eakin, 2003;Tarasuk et al., 2014). Food banks are assumed to be able to contribute to, rather than solve the problem of food insecurity by allowing governments to look the other way, shifting responsibility for food insecurity to these charitable institutions, rather than establishing a common environment that would allow it to prevail (Booth & Whelan, 2014;Lambie-Mumford, 2013;Riches, 2011;Tarasuk et al., 2014). Food banks are considered a short-term measure to ameliorate a surge in food insecurity, which provide food assistance in the form of unprepared grocery items directly to people in need or provide immediate solutions to severe food deprivation. ...
... They suggest viewing food rescue as a pragmatic "in-the-meantime" solution to address immediate concerns, while longer-term solutions to food waste and food insecurity are sought. They suggest that focusing only on revolutionary transformation can amount to a 'politics of abandonment' for those experiencing food insecurity (Riches, 2011). Recent research builds on this understanding, exploring the transformative potential of food redistribution initiatives towards food security over time. ...
Article
Food rescue organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand help to reduce food waste and provide temporary relief to food insecurity. However, many of these organisations depend on donations and short-term philanthropic or government funding, which creates financial uncertainty and often requires them to demonstrate the impacts of their work with limited resourcing. While frameworks exist to demonstrate social value and associated monetary proxies like social return on investment (SROI), they are often resource-intensive and challenging to apply to multiple actors with different operating models like food rescue groups. This paper presents a SROI approach to measure the social value of three different food rescue models (Community Hub, Free Store, and Mixed model) in Aotearoa New Zealand. We describe how we adapted the seven guiding principles of SROI to explore how food rescue creates value for different actors in the food rescue process, including food donors, food recipient organisations, food rescue volunteers, and food rescue recipients. We used stakeholder interviews and quantitative data to develop nine primary outcomes. Financial proxy values were assigned to these outcomes, calculating an SROI ratio of NZD 4.5:1, indicating that an investment of $1 in food rescue delivers $4.5 of social value. This study adds to the growing literature on the impact of food rescue organisations and highlights the importance of taking a multi-case study approach to capture the true value created by this sector. Additionally, it emphasises the crucial role of food rescue organisations as ‘community connectors’ and their transformative potential in addressing food security issues.
... The charity system upon which food recovery relies has been extensively criticized for reproducing inequities and not addressing the root causes of food insecurity and hunger (Poppendieck 1999;Lambie-Mumford 2013;McIntyre et al. 2016;Riches 2018;Messner et al. 2020). Specifically, for further enriching big corporations through donation-tax write-offs (Vitiello et al. 2015), allowing waste disposal cost savings (Lohnes and Wilson 2018), and not guaranteeing the provision of nutrient-dense foods in sufficient amounts for the current demand (Riches 2011;Bazerghi et al. 2016). Food charity programs are also criticized for binding food security efforts to the industrial food system and diverting attention from redistributive reforms that could address structural causes of food insecurity and diet-related diseases, and could alter the balance of power within the food system (Holt Giménez and Shattuck 2011). ...
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California is a landmark setting for studying produce recovery efforts and policy implications because of its global relevance in agricultural production, its complex network of food recovery organizations, and its environmental and public health regulations. Through a series of focus groups with organizations involved in produce recovery (gleaning organizations) and emergency food operations (food banks, food pantries), this study aimed to deepen our understanding of the current produce recovery system and determine the major challenges and opportunities related to the produce recovery system. Operational and systematic barriers to produce recovery were highlighted by both gleaning and emergency food operations. Operational barriers, such as the lack of appropriate infrastructure and limited logistical support were found to be a challenge across groups and were directly tied to inadequate funding for these organizations. Systematic barriers, such as regulations related to food safety or reducing food loss and waste, were also found to impact both gleaning and emergency food organizations, but differences were observed in how each type of regulation impacted each stakeholder group. To support the expansion of food recovery efforts, participants expressed need for better coordination within and across food recovery networks and more positive and transparent engagement from regulators to increase understanding of the specifics of their unique operational constraints. The focus group participants also provided critiques on how emergency food assistance and food recovery are inscribed within the current food system and for longer term goals of reducing food insecurity and food loss and waste a systematic change will be required.
... À ce titre, la création des épiceries sociales et solidaires s'inscrit en opposition à cette logique d'assistance et de gratuité de l'aide alimentaire, bien souvent stigmatisante. Ces épiceries, aux statuts variables (gérées par une municipalité, un Centre communal d'action social (CCAS) ou une association), offrent ainsi la possibilité de choisir ses produits contre une contribution minime, redonnant aux bénéficiaires une forme de 'citoyenneté' économique (Riches, 2011 ;Paturel et Carimentrand, 2018). ...
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Cet article interroge l’intérêt de la justice alimentaire comme cadre pour penser une transition des systèmes agri-alimentaires, particulièrement dans ses dimensions sociales. Il propose une grille d’analyse pour évaluer cinq initiatives dans trois villes de l’Hexagone. La synthèse de ces initiatives de justice alimentaire montre des récurrences dans les modèles d’actions, qui tendent à combiner un répertoire de pratiques articulé selon trois niveaux : assurer une alimentation de qualité, en faciliter l’accès, et agir sur ses inégalités structurelles. Le cadre d’analyse intégratif et critique proposé souligne certaines apories, ainsi que des tensions et des contradictions, qui traversent les initiatives étudiées, celles-ci tendant de plus en plus à s’institutionnaliser.
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This article explores advocative work of third-sector community food providers in Scotland. The article argues these organisations can contribute to tackling household food insecurity through their advocative work, recognising that state-led policy on household income is needed. Capturing the advocacy of these organisations, rather than focussing solely on their service provision can provide insight that is largely missing from existing community food scholarships. The research adopts a quasi-ethnographic qualitative approach with 16 grassroots community food providers and 5 meso-level support organisations. The findings identify advocacy practices undertaken, targeted at political and public audiences and national and local institutional layers. It highlights the tensions of this work, including fears of exacerbating a failing system. The findings also evidence a complementary, symbiotic, and reciprocally strengthening relationship between service provision and advocacy by third-sector organisations. These contributions demonstrate the potential of this sector to contribute to social change required to address the root causes of household food insecurity.
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
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