Scots food poverty isn’t just a physical issue

A country of Scotland's wealth should not have food banks. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
A country of Scotland's wealth should not have food banks. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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HOW in land of plenty with a tradition of farming can people still go hungry, asks Sally Foster-Fulton.

Who would have believed that in 21st century Scotland, one of the richest countries in the world, a nation with an abundance of natural resources and generous people, that hunger would stalk our most vulnerable citizens?

Who would have believed that reliance on food-banks would have grown exponentially and that they would become a familiar part of the landscape, a response that supplies food for the day, but cannot be a sustainable answer to the complex question – why are people going hungry?

Our “Beyond Food Banks” conference explored these complex questions at the Pearce Institute in Govan. The Church of Scotland, Faith in Community Scotland, and the Centre for Human Ecology hosted the event to look for ways to move beyond our current models and look for ways to address food insecurity in ways that can eradicate hunger in our country. It was supported by the Scottish Government.

The keynote speaker was Rachel Gray, the CEO of The Stop (www.thestop.org) in Canada, a charity that has pioneered some of the most innovative ways of tackling food poverty in the developed world. The Stop’s work arose out of the explosion of food-banks in Canada a generation ago. It is an organisation that has important insights to share with Scotland, hopefully helping us to resist the temptation to allow food-banks to become normalised, rolled into our response to poverty and undermining strategic, holistic attempts to tackle hunger as a crucial issue of justice in an upside-down economic system that lets down those struggling against poverty.

Less than ten weeks before the general election this is a critical conversation. Several reasons have been proposed to explain the rapid increase in food banks in recent years; welfare reform, insecure employment, rising food prices (which have hit many of the poorest hardest), increased living costs, a greater level of co-ordination and effort by faith and charitably groups. These arguments are often deployed by politicians seeking to pin the blame on one another, but food insecurity and hunger in 21st century Scotland must be addressed seriously and not become a political football.

“Beyond Food Banks” also addressed these practical questions by highlighting examples of best practice in Scotland, offering space for groups doing innovative work to showcase their ideas to alleviate food poverty in Scotland and encouraging communities to go further and to develop longer term, more sustainable and more participative models. I believe that the Church can speak on these issues with integrity, as many food banks are connected to local congregations.

Everyone involved should be commended and thanked for their commitment to loving their neighbour. Food poverty is not just a physical issue, but relates to self-worth and spiritual well-being. Christians are called to work for God’s kingdom, where all can live life in all its fullness. How in land of plenty with a tradition of farming and food production can people still go hungry?

The Scottish Government’s new Good Food Commission includes a member from the Poverty Truth Commission, a welcome sign that issues of food security are a priority for the whole of society and that the government is committed to hearing directly for those who are victims food poverty.

Across this country, new and exciting ideas are taking root: food co-ops, community gardens and cooking groups. People are ready to rally, to question food-banks as a final response and to campaign for a sustainable solution to a growing problem. We look forward to the plans that will emerge from our gathered desire for a hunger-free Scotland.

Together we can affirm and encourage work already being done to meet need, campaign for political action to tackle underlying causes and explore innovative approaches to going a step beyond just food provision.

Can we imagine a society where emergency food aid is only needed in exceptional circumstances, and where involuntary hunger in Scotland is eradicated?

• Sally Foster-Fulton is Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, www.churchofscotland.org.uk

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