BLOG: Liverpool is launching a ‘Good Food’ strategy – what does that mean exactly?
Here to explain is Kevin Peacock, the Chief Executive of St Andrew’s Community Network (home of North Liverpool Foodbank). Kevin is also the co-Chair of the Liverpool Food Insecurity Task Group and a trustee of the ‘Feeding Liverpool’ charity.
The man is clearly hungry. I watch as he unwraps six snack-size blocks of cheese and a packet of biscuits and literally stuffed them into his mouth. It is 9am and the man is stood outside my office, home of North Liverpool Foodbank. It is an act of utter desperation and desolation. It is shocking to watch and leaves lots of questions. How, in our city, can someone end up so desperate? How many others might be like him? What, if anything can be done? This was last Thursday, 30 September 2021.
These are some of the questions we have begun to answer as part of Liverpool’s ‘Good Food Plan’. We now estimate that 32% of people in Liverpool are food insecure. What does that mean? Well it essentially means not being able to afford what they might choose to eat, not being able to find good food in their local area, or skipping the occasional meal. 5% of the people in our city are acutely hungry, like the man outside my office.
We’ve spoken to dozens of people who have experienced various levels of food insecurity themselves, and those who volunteer, or work, on the frontline. It’s their stories that shape what we need to do. Food should be a positive, nourishing and rewarding experience, but for so many, it is a source of worry and stress. Collectively, we have developed a vision that everyone in Liverpool should be able to eat good food no matter where they come from.
To achieve the vision we have set five goals:
Firstly, we have to continue to support people in crisis. People can experience a sudden change in circumstance that makes it difficult to access food for various reasons. Examples include escaping domestic violence, resettlement into a new area from prison, complications in the asylum and refugee process that means people have no recourse to public funds, battling with addiction, sudden marriage breakdown, or bereavement, or isolation, such as we have experienced during the pandemic. All of these can – and do happen – to people in our communities. We need to make sure we look after those at the time when they need it most. This is the area that food banks are known for, and whilst we’d love to eliminate food banks altogether, we think this is an unlikely objective in the short term. What we can do is improve the food and experience offered, support the tackling of the underlying cause of crisis and ensure that we don’t mix up people in crisis, with those who live with food insecurity over a longer period. Food banks have been a lifeline for many over the past 10 years, but they have also become too widespread and a panacea for all food insecurity issues. They need to be reserved for those who need them most, as we tackle the underlying issues.
Secondly, we have only scratched the surface of what we know about food insecurity in our city. We need to uncover the true scale and nature of the issue. There is an important message in the plan that those who are food insecure are ordinary people. They are likely to be our neighbours, work colleagues, friends, customers, pupils, patients – but we may never know. We can all do a better job of identifying those who don’t access good food by being aware, asking the right questions, and knowing what to do when we uncover it. This also means actively looking for it in particular settings such as: schools, hospitals, during community activities and building good food provision as part of the everyday. We are asking people to answer the question: how does food insecurity show up in my life, as the starting point for this conversation.
Thirdly, we need to promote good food citizenship. That’s a bit of a technical term, but we don’t think that any given person or organisation can solve food insecurity and ensure good food alone. It’s what I call a systemic issue and needs all of us to act to change it. We have some brilliant examples in Liverpool where people are already doing incredible things to promote good food: local growing schemes, community meals provision, community pantries, holiday play schemes, breakfast and lunch clubs. Just look at the collective effort during the pandemic to share with and protect others. These are not necessarily new things, but they do shape the neighbourhoods we live in, and when they work well they provide an ability for people who are food insecure to access food, participate without stigma, learn from others (especially cross-culturally) and to be involved in creating solutions for the challenges we have. In my area we have lost greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers and these have been replaced by convenience stores, bookmakers and fast food outlets. I’d love to see more community food initiatives appear on our high street and to try to change what feels like an inevitable slide backwards from what I consider to be good food.
Fourthly, we need to address some of the policies that drive food insecurity. When we listen to the stories from people experiencing hunger, we hear that many of the issues they face are economic. Broadly, work does not pay enough, and the welfare benefits system does not act as an adequate safety net. There are a whole host of technical issues with the systems designed to support people. The national food strategy addresses a number of supply and sustainability issues, but does not address people’s cost of living and the ability of people to afford good food. There is more we can do locally to address food access issues and support the emergence of community led food initiatives. It’s a complex system, but I think the most important thing in this whole debate is to allow the voice of those closest to the issue to shape the policies that affect them. This is a profound challenge to policy makers.
Finally, we need clear leadership, accountability and new way of connecting people into these discussions. The breadth of the issues to be tackled do not rest with one organisation. We cannot say it is the responsibility of the city council, although it clearly has a role. There is no-one whose job it is to ensure ‘Good Food’, and neither can there be because of the breadth of the issues involved. Instead, we need an alliance inclusive and empowered to bring people together to understand and drive forward actions. Feeding Liverpool was formed a number of years ago, bringing together people to provide ‘a line of sight to the street and back again’ and it’s on this good will we are building – forming a Charitable Incorporated Organisation to focus on good food. I’m proud to be involved in its formation and I’m excited to see what such an organisation can achieve.
We saw our ‘friend outside of the office’ on the following Tuesday. The weekend treated him kindly, and his situation has stabilised. He was thankful for the food and the words of advice and he’s acted on it. He’s got the support he needs around him now, and I reflected that we met him part way through his good food journey. It’s encouraging news, and a sign of hope. My prayer is that through the ‘Good Food Plan’ we can hear his experience and design a system that stops others like him falling through the cracks.