Saturday, 1 December 2012

Food banks and food rights

I think this is a consumer rights issue.  It's certainly a human rights issue.

So, I went to Tesco today.  I do it automatically on a Saturday but, as I am now restocking the restock piles, and am shortly to start restocking the restocking of the restockng piles, I do wonder why I do it.  I probably go because I can handwrite shopping lists on my new Android smart phone, and then rub the items out by hand as I find them, and this rocks and makes me feel as if I have joined the twenty first century; handwriting shopping lists!  They'll be inventing somethign that doesn't use batteries next, and calling it, oh, I don't know, paper.

Anyway, when I got to Tesco, a sad faced man in his mid-fifties stopped in front of me as I was going through the doorway.  I mean, really intrusively.  I couldn't go forward without talking to him.  He was in the way. I couldn't shake my head and carry on because social convention says that you are not supposed to use your shopping trolley to run someone over.  He was using social convention to hijack my time.

"Are you going to buy any of these items today?" he asked, handing me a list. 

I checked out his bib, the heading of the leaflet, etc., without taking the leaflet.  It was a food bank.  This made me angry (see below).

"I can't read the list," I said. 

"I can read it out to you," he said. 

"I just want to go shopping," I said.  "I don't want to listen to the list.  You are in my way." 

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry," he said, and stepped aside.  I went into the shop, fuming, and feeling guilty.

So, I shopped. Two bottles of bleach, one for the stockpile upstairs and one for the stockpile downstairs, tick.  Two bottles of Olive Oil, not on the shopping list (I see that they are on sale half price, and so two bottles will go into the stock pile even though the stock pile of Olive Oil does not need restocking.  I am thrifty, see), tick.  Dead-food cabinet: two slabs of rump steak sold at half price, to join the other dozen in the freezer,  tick.  Etc.  When I found the shelves from which I could select cane sugar (tick), I relented and bought a bag of caster sugar, and then, thinking they were nutritious, and sourced locally, I bought a sack of potatoes and a bag of parsnips for the food bank people.

I stood by the cashier, trying to figure out what was making me so angry now that my guilt was assuaged.  As I went out, I handed another food-bank ambusher, also a man in his fifties, my bag of goods.

"Oh, we can't take those," he said.  "They're not dried goods.  We only want dried goods.  We can't take the parsnips.  They'll go off."

"Then give them away tonight," I said. 

"Oh, I'll see what we can do," he said, after some wibbling, and took me over to the stall where a gentle old lady was collecting dried goods and giving people stickers.  She tried to ambush me with a sticker.

"I don't want a sticker," I said.  They looked at me with concern.  I must have been sounding a little mad.  After all, who wouldn't want a sticker to show that they'd spent a little of their weekly shopping budget buying something appropriate to give to the deserving poor? 

"Can I just ask you," I said, "who you voted for in the last election?"

The ambusher opened his mouth.  He knew exactly where I was coming from.

"Because," I said, "if you voted Liberal or Tory, then you caused* this.  You caused people to have to need food banks."

The man interrupted.  "It's nothing to do with the government," he said, and then, contradictorily, he said "and anyway, don't all governments do this?"

Oh, I wish I could think faster.  I was shaking with, with ... something.  Anger that people have to go to food banks in Cambridge in the second decade of the 21st century, anger that this tosser, who probably went to church and voted Tory in the name of liberalism and freedom of choice, felt that it was appropriate that middle class people could get their kicks by handing out food to people who can't afford food because of government policy.

"It's everything to do with government," I said. "The Tories have cut benefits.  They've taken money away from disabled people.  And then there's the rent.  They've cut rent allowances and child benefit allowances and taken money away from people.  It's a basic human right, to be able to eat, and have housing, and it shouldn't depend on the good will of the patronising classes.  The Tories have removed human rights.  That there has to be a food bank in Cambridge makes me very angry."

He started on.  I am FED UP with men talking over me, always talking, assuming that if they are talking I will stop talking and listen, although they never stop talking and listen when I am talking. I am FED UP with healthy, pink and shiny middle class TOSSERS showing their teeth and their assumption of privilege when faced with anything outside their shiny little bubbles of assumed privilege and assumed reasonableness. He spoke to me in a tone of reasonableness. I continued in a tone of mounting hysteria.  The little old lady who was collecting the food looked very upset.

I continued for a couple of minutes.  The eejit man also continued.  To end, I said. "And that's why, if you really want people to have enough to eat, you need to vote for a properly socialist government!"   And then I stormed off.

Because this is political and we don't need to have food banks; what we need is a goverment that behaves responsibly to all of its citizens, not just the people who have bankrolled it into power.

I am sorry for scaring the little old lady, though.  She was just doing what her generation have always done, which is get on with caring for people at the behest of curly-haired patronising middle class men.

later edit: Please read this excellent article from the Guardian on the growth of food banks within the UK

*with apologies to anyone who did, actually, vote specifically for Julian Huppert, because he is one of the few MPs in government who have actually been sort-of fighting this sort of thing.

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