Debunking seven myths about food insecurity
By Mali Sion Evans
Bristol Local Food Fund volunteer, Mali Sion Evans, writes our latest Bristol Bites Back opinion blog post. Mali explores inconsistencies in our food system that can lead to misplaced assumptions about the realities of food insecurity in the UK, and explains why Bristol needs a local food fund. Find out how you can get involved.
Our food system is full of contradictions; a lot of things just don’t add up. Why do we import food we can grow locally? How is it often cheaper for food produced in the UK to be processed and packaged on different continents? Why are rainforests being chopped down to make space for farmland when lots of food rots in the field, never making it to market? It doesn’t really make sense, does it? Well, the same goes for food insecurity.
It can be hard to believe that many people can’t get hold of good food when there is an abundance of it, or that people can’t afford food when it’s never been cheaper. But even though it doesn’t make sense, it’s sadly true that one in five people in the UK live under the poverty line. So, it’s even more important to understand what food insecurity isn’t, as well as what it is. Many people want to help with the situation, so we think it’s a good idea to untangle some of the myths and misconceptions about being food insecure.
1. “People should just learn to cook”
Aha! This is a classic. Lots of us love to cook – it can make us feel creative, ensure we know what’s going in our meals and can be a good way to cut down on costs compared to eating out or getting takeaways. But we can also take for granted how readily available the fresh foods we like and know what to do with are, or having the time and resources to cook, if we don’t live under the poverty line. Also, if we don’t have to constantly count the pennies, we can underestimate how the cost of energy adds to the cooking process. Thousands of households in Bristol have to decide between “eating and heating” in the winter months, so putting on an oven or hob, or even keeping the fridge and freezer going, is an unaffordable luxury to many.
2. “You could just make a big stew to feed your family – that’s cheap!”
As well as the above issues of affording energy (a stew tends to take a while to cook!), it’s also important to think about taste. Everyone who’s ever raised kids will have experienced trying to get them to try a new vegetable, only to have to manage tantrums and tears at the sight of broccoli or carrots! If you’re struggling to feed your family, you’re likely to choose foods that you know your children will happily munch down knowing they don’t go to bed hungry, rather than take the risk of trying something new that just ends up in the bin.
3. “Vegetables are cheaper than unhealthy foods”
If only! Vegetables can appear to be cheap, but per calorie it’s much cheaper to buy ultra-processed foods (and you know these will fill you up and gratify the intrinsic cravings of fat and salt). According to The Food Foundation’s Broken Plate Report, unhealthy foods are up to three times cheaper than their healthy equivalents per unit of energy.
4. “You could just buy one of those huge bags of rice and lentils and you’d have food for weeks!”
Well, yes, ideally! We all know that if you buy a pack of 12 loo rolls, it’s cheaper per roll than buying a four-pack. The same goes for food. With limited weekly funds you’re unlikely to be able to invest in large quantities of food to see you through the month. Many people have to manage their funds weekly, or even daily, and therefore miss out on the discounts that are often available when you buy items in larger quantities.
5. “Why do we have an obesity epidemic if people are food insecure?”
This feels like another one of those food contradictions, but obesity and diet-related ill-health are directly linked to food insecurity. There is abundant evidence of the correlation between low-income and obesity, which is also linked to our food environments, or “foodscapes’”. Many neighbourhoods across Britain are considered to be “food deserts”, where access to fresh and nutritious food is lacking, or “food swamps”, where there is a saturation of unhealthy food outlets. Both can have a serious impact on the health of local residents, and if money is tight, the cost of travelling to different areas can be too high.
6. “Food banks are there for a reason and give out loads of food”
Food banks have been a lifeline to thousands of people in recent years, and sadly the number of people relying on them has increased significantly since the start of the pandemic. This puts a lot of stress on the organisations that fund and find provisions for emergency food distributions and it’s a huge challenge to provide nutritious and culturally appropriate food for all their users. Another big issue is stigma; many people feel a sense of guilt and shame, and end up skipping meals to avoid queuing for a food parcel.
7. “If people can’t afford to feed their kids, they shouldn’t have them in the first place!”
Food insecurity is a shapeshifter. Changes to peoples’ working situations can happen very quickly and without warning, especially through the turbulent times we’ve seen over recent years. In 2019, Shelter found that a staggering 45% of private renters in England were only “one paycheck away from homelessness”, and with increased redundancies and insecure work contracts, it’s no wonder families suddenly find themselves unable to afford to pay for their basic needs.
So, how will the Bristol Local Food Fund help?
For the reasons above and many more, the Bristol Local Food Fund was set up. We want to raise £100,000 so that the amazing community food projects can continue their work to:
Community food projects really are incredible and have such a positive domino effect, but they need help. Accessing funds can be time-consuming, restrictive and inconsistent, which is why we want an accessible pot of funds so that community food projects can carry on being local champions for equality, health and happiness in Bristol.
Donate to the Bristol Local Food Fund Crowdfunder at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/BLFF.
By setting the wheels in motion now, together we can transform the future of food in our city, building in resilience over the next decade. So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.
So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.
* Required field