Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Food Banks - Killing us softly with their love?

The other night I couldn't sleep, I decided to try watching some telly. After flicking through, I got bored and stopped, on a re-run of Channel 4's The Worlds Best Diet. This goes through 50 world diets from worse to best, at number 50 - The Marshall Islands. 

The Marshall Islands look like Paradise. So you expect to find a diet of local natural food and spices, but local food is too costly and poverty levels are high. These people are forced to rely on cheap imports. I personally would have put the USA in last position, as the majority of countries near the top 50 are there because of crappy American imports and junk food.

People in the Marshall Islands are some of the most obese throughout the planet and have the world's highest death rates and huge amounts of amputations from diabetes. You can find out more about their diet and diabetes here http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/072508p24.shtml

The Marsall Islands diet looks like this 

Now I know you might be thinking: what's this got to do with food banks? Well, the thing that first struck me when they ran through the diet, bit by bit, was that this was the same diet for poor people worldwide. The typical Marshall Island diet is tinned veg, tinned meat, white rice and cheap cuts of meat (Turkey Tails - wonder how long till we get them). This was exactly what you get at food banks, minus the delicious turkey arses and any fresh meat (though food banks tend to give pasta out as well). Food banks may fend off starvation, short-term, but long-term they are killing us? 

 "Some of the world’s lowest rates of diabetes occur in areas where white rice is a staple food. In populations where white rice is consumed with vegetables, tofu, and/or beans and the intake of processed foods is minimized, diabetes rates are remarkably low. On the other hand, where white rice is consumed with canned or fatty meat, salty snacks, sweet beverages, and other heavily processed foods, diabetes rates are consistently high."

I can't be the only one who finds it mind-boggling that it is cheaper to pluck food from the ground, drive it around for miles, process it into some crap, vaguely resembling food, package it in something poisonous, and then drive and/or fly it some more to a shop to sit on a shelf, compared to just harvesting it and driving it to a store or local market.

I know food banks are lifelines, and they are ran by caring individuals, but we really need to take a look inside a food banks bags and see what we can do to change the contents for the better. How can we get fresh perishable items to the needy and often sick? I fully understand why they can't collect these items for distribution before they go off, so what practical steps can we take to get fresh foods to food bank users plates?

I've had to rely on food banks. I am vegetarian and to be 100% honest, it is full of stuff I'd never feed my family if there was a choice, but there wasn't. We were desperate, and I am very keen to point out that food banks have saved numerous people from starvation, since the callous Tory cuts came in. There are strict rules about what they can and cannot put in the food bags, but I did notice they have a table for items they are not allowed to put in the bags, for you to take if you want. These items tend to be toiletries, pet food, out of date items. We should try and get as much fresh fruit and vegetables on that table as possible.
  • Do you donate to foodbanks? Why not find out when yours is open and drop of fresh produce to the free-to-collect table?
  • Do you grow your own? Again, why not drop some off on days it's open.
  • Do you have time to create a community farm? Can you get a small group together and try and locate some land and help supply the needy in your area? The Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens offers advice on all aspects of community-managed city farming and community gardening  https://www.farmgarden.org.uk/farms-gardens/getting-involved/starting-a-new-group
  • Are you a gardener? Could you teach people how to grow their own, maybe you could print some leaflets and ask your local food bank to hand them out or hold classes.
  • Buy seasonal heritage seeds for the table or cuttings to encourage home growing.
  • When donating food consider honey, seeds, nuts, beans, pulses, etc that have excellent nutritionally value as well as long shelf lives.
  • Get involved help out at your local foodbanks and try to tackle these nutritional issues.