Following on from our previous blog on Food Stamps – this weeks blog is all about CHOICE.
One of the flaws in our UK Food Aid system is the lack of choice it gives it’s recipients. Although the food they receive is in no doubt greatly received and may give them the sustenance they need to get by in the short-term – the beneficiaries have no choice over what they receive and therefore the act is one of feeding, and does not allow them to choose the foods that they eat.
Because of this – those in receipt of food aid can often feel disempowered with no control over their own health or the health of their families.
Food Parcels do not change the underlying causes of food poverty – issues that may be longer-term and take time to resolve. We need to look towards a strategic response to food poverty – one that will allow people to make their own choices about the food they eat – and the food they give to their families.
As mentioned in our previous blog on Why Food Stamps are Progress – giving service users some choice over what they can eat can have a huge effect on their self esteem in terms of what they are able to provide for their family – rather than having this choice made for them with a parcel of food that many will struggle to use to produce a healthy meal.
Jean-Michel Cohen a French ‘Diet Doctor’ whose book ‘The Parisian Diet’ has sold more than 2 million copies points out ‘When you cook – you think about ingredients, buy them, chop them up, heat them and watch them tranform into a meal. All the time you are in control’.
Michael Pollan, Food Campaigner and writer also believe thats cookery increases choice – ‘Cooking makes you a producer, rather than just a consumer. And this has profound consequences for your health’.
‘Corporations cook very differently from how people do. Cooks want food to taste good, corporations want it to be cheap, and easy to make, store and transport. This is sugar, refined flour, hydrogenated fat and rice syrup’.
We think it is necessary to encourage and educate families on how to make sensible choices on a tight budget and to change attitudes towards healthier food – helping people to realise that cooking healthier, home-cooked meals doesn’t necessarily have to be more expensive, and can be just as cheap if not cheaper than buying the processed foods that they probably feel they have no choice but to buy, with the budgets that they have.
Cooking skills empower people with the skills to prepare food, but also with knowledge on how ready meals are prepared – giving people this knowledge will increase their choices regarding the foods they purchase, cook or eat.
We already have experience in helping families to manage family meals and cook more healthy options in the home setting. We evaluated the impact of the Can Cook programme on eleven families and across the course of the programme, City University Food Policy Team documented the changes in attitudes, skills and behaviours of the participants after cookery session with us.
The Can Cook programme improved the skills and increased the confidence of the family cooks – leading to significant changes in diet including increases in fruit, vegetable, rice, pasta, and potato consumption. These changes not only occurred in the diet of the cook but also the diet of the whole family.
Comments from the families showed the effect that our programme had and how education and cookery skills can make a real difference to attitudes to food and cooking at home.
‘I used to think that you had to put loads of stuff together to make a meal and then Can Cook gave me a tray with a potato, a carrot and a few other ingredients and I’d look at it and think “that won’t feed two people” and then I put it together and It did – it made me realise that I didn’t have to do all that work to make that meal, I just had to use less stuff and I’d still make the same meal without all the wastage as well. So it was actually quicker to do which makes it even nicer’.
We were able to increase the choice that these families had in terms of food purchasing and confidence in cooking healthier, home-cooked meals.
Slow Cookers – As well as understanding that those on low incomes may struggle to be able to purchase and access healthier, fresh foods – many people do not have the equipment or facilities at home to be able to cook this food should they be able to purchase it in the first place. Our Teaching Liverpool to Cook Campaign aims to tackle this problem by giving out Slow Cookers to the people that attend our cookery courses.
Slow Cookers use less electricity than conventional ovens so are a method of cooking that won’t put as much of a strain on household budgets, and they are also a great way to make the most of staple ingredients and leftovers. We will be teaching a range of tasty one-pot dishes during our Teaching Liverpool to Cook programme – using basic and affordable ingredients.
We are looking for Slow Cooker Manufacturers or shops that stock Slow Cookers to do their bit towards helping those in Food Poverty in this City and donate any Slow Cookers they can to our Campaign – contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you, or anyone you know would like to get involved.
Cookery in Schools – giving young people the choice to be healthy and to cook nutritious meals…
We need to start educating people on food choices and cookery skills whilst they are still in school – giving them the choice to have a healthy lifestyle as they grow up and start to support themselves. The government says that it is re-introducing school cookery classes from next month and the new curriculum states that learning how to cook is a ‘crucial life skill that enables pupils to feed thermselves and others affordably and well’ – we do hope this is something that happens but we have to say, we’ll believe it when we see it. If cookery isn’t happening in the home – then it is vital that cookery skills are made a priority in school – where pupils spend the majority of their time and that it is made compulsary to learn to cook healthy, and just as importantly, tasty food that young people will choose to cook and eat at home.
What do we do next?
This only emphasises the importance of Campaigns such as Teaching Liverpool to Cook in tackling issues surrounding food poverty.
The findings of our evaluation report indicate how teaching families and individuals skills in cookery, budgeting, shopping and storage can make a significant difference to the foods that they buy and to the meals that they cook at home. In these times of austerity – it is vital that we give people the skills to make the most of what they have in terms of income and food purchasing until the problems are tackled at source. Working with food banks will be key in our Teaching Liverpool to Cook programme – teaching people how to cook the food they receive in food aid packages and create wholesome and healthy meals from the ingredients – and as you can see from the evidence in this report – this can have real impact.
We need generosity from others to make a difference. This means in terms of ideas, resources and collaboration. Be generous with your ideas and resources so we get to a solution together. We need to collaborate and not overlap and compete for resources.
We need to be strategic – but the strategy has to be connected. We need to give people Choice – and drive this choice via foodbanks, foodstamps (in the short term) and cookery. It’s also about restoration – it has to be about restoring peoples dignity, the quality of people’s services and access to very, very good food – not just OK food. If we don’t, we will miss an opportunity.
Contact us here with your views, solutions and ideas or tell us on twitter – @foodpoverty.