Feeding London: If Food For London is the answer, are we asking the wrong questions?

The Evening Standard is running a campaign ‘Food For London’, backed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, that proposes to distribute ‘surplus’ fresh produce to charities, who can distribute it to needy people in the Capital. It’s a scheme that relies on charitable donations and for retailers/wholesalers to contribute ‘waste’ food. It’s something I have very mixed feelings about.

On one hand, not land-filling tons of perfectly edible produce makes perfect sense and targeting those tons to our most vulnerable and needy members of society also makes perfect sense. I can think of several project ideas that I would like to start myself which could take advantage of such a supply of fresh produce, though they would need other resources to make them viable. My concern is that the proposed lifelines of food are A) already absolutely essential for so many affected people B) the lives of those who need this food assistance are reliant on the charity of patrons who can withdraw their charity at any moment, either moving it to another cause or simply some other venture. We are living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world in the 21st Century, nobody’s life should be reliant on the vagaries of the charitable patronage of our privileged classes.

It would be easy to reduce this effort by the Standard to being little more than the offering of scraps from the tables of the rich to the poor and that is something I would resist fervently. If the scheme works as proposed, then it will be a lifeline. Food waste is an enormous environmental problem and any measures to tackle it should be welcomed. Likewise providing assistance to those people who need it but it is that our societies have people of such need that should be of concern and that we have decided to make their welfare the concern of the indulgences of philanthropy. The clock has been turned back in our society and philanthropy should not be seen as a replacement for taxation and responsible and effective government.

We currently have a government that, ideologically, is not equipped to deal with such an environmental humanitarian crisis and a Labour party that flies too near to those same ideologies will be equally ill-equipped. Britain not only needs a government that has the principles to face such issues square on but which is prepared to fight for them. Charities can do great good within our communities but some also have the distinction of paying their CEOs £100,000s, with little sign that those CEO roles are anything more than channels to transfer wealth. We need political leaders who will have no truck with such practices. Charities picking up the slack for government should be seen for what it is, neglect and failure by government.

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