Food poverty UK blog. Posting 1: 15th July 2017
Why a blog on food poverty in the UK?
Because it exists here and because it symbolises powerfully the state of our nation, revealing the effects of growing inequality and austerity.
As a social anthropologist working for much of my career in Tanzania and India, I learned a lot about food poverty: why it occurs, how people deal with it, and how it is perceived by others, both locally and further afield. As a foodie anthropologist who had specialised in this topic, I had thought of food poverty as being primarily a problem of the global South.
However, in 2012, I first heard mention of food banks in the UK and started to investigate. A simple entry of ‘food aid’ into search engines turned up many references, but none was about the UK. Adding ‘UK’ just gave information about the UK’s various aid programmes to the global south. This seemed to confirm that food poverty was viewed as a problem ‘over there’, not over here. This situation, by the way is very different now, with increasing numbers of leads on all search engines. This is partly because other academics – sociologists, epidemiologists, geographers, public health experts and more – have been working on this topic for the past few years ad partly because food banks (the most visible part of food poverty) has become such a highly politicised issue.
I started my own research in 2014, choosing to focus on organisations in two areas of the UK: the London Borough of Barnet which is a very urban area and the County of Pembrokeshire in West Wales which is mainly rural.
Over the last three years, I’ve visited food banks, community cafes, lunch clubs, etc. most of which are volunteer-run. The research has involved interviews with clients, volunteers and trustees, as well as distributing questionnaires. In addition, I have observed at many organisations and served as an occasional volunteer at several of them.
Moreover, there’s a lot of material to be garnered from other academic work, from newspapers (both national and local) and other secondary sources, so a large amount of this kind of data has also been collected.
How to share all this information and data?
a) the academic route
Of course academics write articles in refereed journals, and I’ve done some of that:
2016. An article entitled ‘Big Society or Broken Society: Food Banks in the UK’ in Anthropology Today (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-8322.12223/abstract
2017. An article in the same journal entitled ‘Win-win? Food Poverty, Food Aid and Food Surplus’: (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-8322.12350/full)
Both of these pieces were based upon public lectures which I had given respectively at Goldsmiths College (the Gold lecture 2015) and the University of Oxford (the Mary Douglas Memorial lecture 2017)
b) Sharing more widely
This time I also wanted to share more widely. I wrote pieces in 2015 and 2016 for a Welsh local newspaper, the Pembrokeshire Herald, and gave talks to many kinds of groups in both research areas:
• In West Wales to a U3A group, and twice to a pensioners’ club in a Welsh town
• In north London to a food bank, a soup kitchen, and also to a group of social work students at my own college in south London
So I have now decided to start a food poverty blog in the hope of raising greater awareness of this issue in the UK, including among policy-makers.
• It will share some of the data I’ve collected for others to see while observing ethical issues such as confidentiality and anonymity
• It will include relevant material by others, including guest blogs by invitation
• It will serve as a resource for others working in this field, whether as academics, researchers, students, or as volunteers, administrators, activists or policy-makers
• In addition to textual material, there will be photos and other visual material
• Comments are welcome but any which are inappropriate or abusive will deleted. No anonymous comments will be accepted – you have to give your real name and a contact or affiliation.
If you want to contact me outside of the blogsphere, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org