In the last couple of weeks, the issue of child hunger has been at the centre of the British media. The decision by the government not to continue free school meals over the holidays despite the campaigns led by Marcus Rashford has caused a huge amount of contention (BBC 2020). I’m not going to write about the morality or my personal opinion on the decision, but the response to the issue has revealed a huge gap in what many people in the UK consider a decent meal and has shown the issue is very complex.
A large section of online users in response to the issue started sharing their favourite bargain basement recipes. I’ve decided to call these deprecipes, because I really think that’s the best way to describe such culinary delights as a two-minute boiled egg. In truth there is no reason why affordable food needs to be quite this nutritionally empty. As a student I often find myself needing to stretch out my money and get the most I can with it.
I have my own set of recipes that come in under £2; chickpea curries, bean stews, and of course ramen. Certain shopping techniques can really greatly decrease your weekly shop, food poverty charities and campaign groups such as Bite Back (2020) have published recipes and meal plans designed to get the most out of every penny.
But can thrifty shopping prevent food poverty? Clearly not! Over 2.2 million people in the UK were classed as severely food insecure by UNICEF in 2018.
So to claim that somehow the cause of child poverty is people wanting too elaborate meals and spending their money unwisely doesn’t make sense. If you don’t have money for dinner then clearly you don’t have enough money to cook anything. And food insecurity goes beyond just the simple price of the ingredients.
The problem is the issue of food poverty is a lot more complex than just how many portions of saag aloo you can eek out by bulk buying, it requires the space, the time and the equipment as well. The ability to cook a delicious cheap meal when times are tight is a great comfort, but it’s not a solution to child poverty and i’ts not an option currently for thousands of families in the UK. There’s a huge variety of courses for this, such as those with parents struggling with mental illness or living in poor quality crammed housing or those on unstable incomes. (Tickle. L, 2020).
Do we really need to be feeding children the cheapest, most plain food available? We could all sustain for a while on plain rice but do we deserve that, especially considering the health implications poor diet would lead to? According to WRAP (2020), 9.5 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in the UK. Why should a resource as plentiful as food in this country be kept from the poorest in society? What child is going to gain an appreciation of food if it turns into an exercise of cutting every extra 50p expense from your dinner?
I live my life based around food and I don’t think that a skill as fundamental as cooking should be kept only for those wealthy enough. Surely there’s a level of good food that we should all be entitled to. We need to be aiming for a country where your parents income doesn’t define your life, where decent food is available to every child.
Thanks for reading, I hope this has given you a brief insight into how much deeper than the headlines the problems with our current attitude to food poverty in the UK are.
BBC (2020) Free School Meals, Available here
Biteback (2020) Making your free school meal voucher go further, Available here
Tickle. L, (2020) Why are millions of children in the UK not getting enough to eat, Available here
Unicef (2018) The state of food security and nutrition in the world, Available here
WRAP (2020) Food Surplus and waste in the UK, Available here