We need a zero hunger policy in Scotland.
The referendum debate showed there is a huge desire for change in Scotland. People want to see a better and fairer Scotland. Better and fairer means that as a wealthy country we shouldn’t have people standing in line for charitable food handouts.
We all admire the generosity of people who donate food, and the commitment of the volunteers who organise the food banks, but they should not be an integral part of our social fabric. Food banks are the unacceptable face of austerity.
This country voted in 1945 for a social security system, yet 70 years later we have 100,000 households in Scotland living with food insecurity. Mums are missing meals so the children can eat, or trading down to the cheapest calories. Fruit and vegetables are 25 per cent more expensive than at the start of the recession, while most wages and benefits have barely changed.
Nourish Scotland works to make food in Scotland fair, healthy, affordable and sustainable. We don’t think hunger and malnutrition are tolerable or necessary in 21st century Scotland. We’re not alone. Our Glasgow conference starting today on World Food Day brings together farmers, researchers and campaigners from four continents who want to see zero hunger in rich as well as poor countries.
Our keynote speakers include Graham Riches from Vancouver. His take on food banks after 30 years researching them in Canada, where they have become an institution? They miss most people living in food poverty. Many of the people who use them still go hungry, and they provide good PR to a wasteful corporate food system.
So what should we do instead? First, the UK and other governments should take their responsibilities seriously as signatories to the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – which includes the right to food. This doesn’t mean state handouts. It means democratising and repurposing the food system to put people and planet before profit. In Scotland, this could mean non-profit “food supply co-operatives” linking Scottish farmers directly with city groups on a “fair price” basis.
We don’t know what DevoNext will mean for Scotland as a state. But as a nation we should make a clear commitment to respect, promote and fulfil the right to food in Scotland – and to work to fulfill this right globally.
• Pete Ritchie is executive director of Nourish Scotland, www.nourishscotland.org