On Thursday 22nd June, A Menu for Change along with MSP Alex Rowley hosted a parliamentary reception to unveil the details of this important and innovative new project to tackle food insecurity. As a partnership project run in conjunction with Oxfam, Poverty Alliance, Child Poverty Action Group and Nourish Scotland, this event, like A Menu for Change, was multi-purpose. With the event we wanted to introduce who we are, why we are here and what we are hoping to do.
As well as giving us the opportunity to present the strategy, context and intent for this project, we wanted to bring together a variety of stakeholders from across Scotland to begin the conversation about how we can work together to tackle increased food bank use. Food insecurity is nothing if it is not far-reaching and we wanted our attendees to be representative of this diversity of experience. Over 100 staff and volunteers from community projects, as well as statutory services, elected representatives, policy makers and local people attended to learn about how they can get involved. We want this project to build on existing networks as well as develop new partnerships; it was an invaluable opportunity for the project to connect with people responding or connected to food insecurity and indeed for those attending to make connections with one another.
We heard from a number of speakers on the evening all of whom shared A Menu for Change’s vision that in order to tackle food crisis we have to address income crisis.
Alex Rowley MSP, hosting the event spoke of the cross party responsibility to challenge the growing need for food banks and the urgency of tackling this increasingly endemic issue. Echoing this was the Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman who talked of the ‘pressing need’ to address food poverty which is ‘symptom of wider poverty’. She said that now is the golden opportunity to reverse the entrenchment of food banks in our society. A clear running theme from the speakers was that food banks should not become the norm for Scotland and that we have to find another path.
Local authorities have an important role to play in helping us achieve change at a local level. We will work intensively in three local authorities: Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife. Dundee City Councillor Bill Campbell spoke on behalf of the three areas and re-iterated the sentiments of the elected members:
‘food banks must not become a permanent or acceptable part of our society… we must ensure that anyone using a food bank is using all statutory sources of support’.
The most powerful testimony came however not from elected or third sector representatives but from two parents who, through video link, described the experience of having to access a food bank: ‘I felt ashamed, I felt embarrassed cause I felt as though I shouldn’t be going there’. Giving an important reminder that food banks do not represent a dignified response to acute food insecurity – as one parent stated ‘nobody should not have enough money to buy food’.
This project requires local authorities, communities and organisations to step up to the plate and work together to champion progressive solutions to food insecurity. Indeed Martin Cawley from the Big Lottery Fund Scotland summed up the project in three words: ‘citizenship, collaboration and leadership’. We see this event as the first step in harnessing the existing collective energy in Scotland towards an evolved response to food insecurity which puts cash, rights and dignity at its core.