(Food banks Versailles-style)
Last week we heard that half a million people are now relying on food banks, because, in case the glut of millionaire MPs gave you other ideas, the policy of austerity is divisive, destructive and leaving more people than ever too poor to feed themselves.
It is of course preferable that ASDA gives their unsold food away to some of the 5.8 million in the UK who are in “deep poverty”, rather than opt for M&S’s policy and make it inedible with ink before chucking it in locked bins. But hearing that fewer people are plummeting under the no-bread line would be preferable still.
In the kitchens of the rich the only food banks present are the masses of provisions piled up in handle-less cupboards and walk in fridges. But from where I am teaching it seems that the rich need government intervention to save them from themselves more than they know, because the problems of poverty, malnutrition and obesity for the majority are mirrored in a range of equally pernicious problems for the few. The breaking news is that rich people aren’t happier being rich – they just have more money with which to cram their larders in an attempt to compensate.
I have lost count of the number of posh families I’ve worked for where there are eating disorders among one or more of their members. From the many terrible, but somehow elusive and insoluble, intolerances, to the number of girls cursed by an abundance of food and mental anxieties about weight that leaves them petrified to consume more than a crumb of it. I worked with one family whose daughter had devolved to bone tautly dressed in skin and was frequently hospitalised because of her anorexia. Her family owned an enormous estate in the North, where the father ran parties to shoot farmed pheasants. Such was the seasonal massacre that birds were left to rot uneaten in such numbers they could have provided nutritious meals for thousands.
Another family was part of a glittering metropolitan elite, whose Rolodex read like a copy of Hello! Magazine. The mother hired a live in chef to cook for the family and, this being London in the unequal 21st century, the food created was the kind of work esteemed by the cult of Heston Blumenthal: microclimates of leaf arranged around an animal that had been killed for one square inch of its braised backside and spat at with spume. It was food at its most indulgent and complex; the sort of dish a contemporary Marie Antoinette would recommend passing out to food bank queues. Their son would play around with this culinary artifice if forced to, before retreating to his room and gorging on the comforting tubs of Haribo sweets he hid under his bed.
I worked intensively with one family and experienced the shopping being delivered one weekend when the parents were, unsurprisingly, absent again. £300 was spent, but because the only thing the children would eat was pasta with butter, the majority of it was just left to rot before it was finally thrown out.
I’ve worked with a teenage boy who barely saw his parents and whose diet centered upon a bin of cookies that filled one of his many drawers, a 7 year-old girl who stuffed herself to get through the fact she had no friends at school and a GCSE student whose anxiety of failure was so severe he was taken out of school and had to be bribed to get up and study with cupcakes and slabs of caramel.
To see evidence of illness and imbalance percolating through the richest strata in society is a sign that the current system of grotesque inequality is failing everyone. If people at both ends of the spectrum are suffering then one answer may be to ensure their social locations are not so separate.
It seems pressing that we organise redistribution from the few who have much to the many who have little. This redistribution needs to involve land as much as food and money, because one of the surest ways to give people back their health and sustenance is to afford them the right to have access to gardens, allotments, community growing projects, orchards and wildernesses. Planting a seed and nurturing it to grow helps teach the value of food, the importance of care, the centrality of nourishment.
The bogeyman against greater taxation for the rich needs to be exploded and exposed for what it is; a fear of insufficiency that is keeping the rich sick, deranged, alienated and blind to the very real levels of poverty they are best able to rectify.
- Asda to donate surplus food stock to charity (metro.co.uk)
- Food Bank Britain: Nearly half a MILLION people relying on charity to eat (ukhomelessnessblog.wordpress.com)