Written evidence submitted by: Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite, University of Birmingham, UK, and Independent Food Aid Network, UK; Andy Fisher, The National University of Natural Medicine, Portland, Oregon, USA; and Dr Charlotte Spring, University of Sheffield, UK.
1.1 Kayleigh Garthwaite (PhD) is a Birmingham Fellow at the University of Birmingham. Her research focuses on poverty, charitable food provision, stigma, and health inequalities. She has experience of conducting ethnographic research in the North East of England on issues of poverty, food bank use, stigma, and welfare reform since 2008. Garthwaite is also a trustee of the Independent Food Aid Network, a network of independent, grassroots food aid providers working together to secure food security for all.
1.2 Andy Fisher is an activist, NGO consultant, and has worked as an adjunct professor at various universities in Oregon. In 1994, Fisher co-founded and led the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC), a first of its kind national alliance of hundreds of groups working on urban food access and local food. Fisher led CFSC as Executive Director for 17 years, creating and gaining momentum for the concept of community food security while building the food movement as a whole. He successfully led advocacy efforts and passage of crucial federal nutrition legislation to address food security, including the establishment of the Community Food Projects and Farm to School grants.
1.3 Charlotte Spring (PhD) is a Research Associate at the University of Sheffield. Her doctoral research compared UK organisations using surplus food through ethnographic research (primarily FareShare and The Real Junk Food Project), exploring their narratives of food poverty and the role of wasted food in addressing this. Her WCMT Fellowship into food aid provision in the US and Canada formed part of the research. She coordinates the ‘Measuring and monitoring’ sub-group of the Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance.
2.1 This submission responds to Question 14 in the Call for Evidence: What can the UK learn from food policy in other countries? Are there examples of strategies which have improved access and affordability of healthy, sustainable food across income groups?
2.2 In the past five years in the UK, we have seen a steep rise in the number of people seeking emergency food aid in the form of charitable provision, signalling permanence to the existence of food banks. In Canada and the USA, there is a much longer history of charitable food provision. There is an urgent need to engage with what can be learnt from the transatlantic context here in the UK, and vice versa.
2.3 The submission is based upon the findings and expertise of three academics and activists working on issues of food insecurity in the UK, US and Canada. Firstly, Garthwaite’s British Academy funded project, ‘Charitable food provision as an emergency response: sharing evidence from Canada, the USA and the UK’. This project involved a two-day interactive workshop attended by over 40 international researchers, charities, front-line workers, people with lived experience of food poverty and insecurity, and grassroots organisations. It aimed to produce innovative understandings of the relationship between the institutionalisation of charitable food aid within different contexts, to take the agenda forward.
2.4 Secondly, it draws on evidence from Andy Fisher, author of Big Hunger: the Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups (2017, MIT). Fisher argues that many key anti-hunger advocates are missing an essential element of the problem: economic inequality driven by low wages. His research finds that efforts to end hunger, reduce obesity, and reform farm subsidies are compromised by corporate interests.
2.5 Finally, it presents case studies from Dr Charlotte Spring’s Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (WCMT) Fellowship[i] which involved eight weeks of visits and research with food access programmes in nine cities across the US and Canada in 2016.
2.6 The following case studies provide examples of strategies which have improved access and affordability of healthy, sustainable food across income groups.
3.0 Case studies
3.1 Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program[ii] (GusNIP)
The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) supports projects to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by providing incentives at the point of purchase. It is administered by USDA, with an average of $50 million per year available for the next four years. It includes funding for pilot projects of under $100k to large scale projects over $500k, as well as a fruit and vegetable prescription program.
These SNAP incentives typically take place at farmers markets or grocery stores. The format of the program varies site by site, with participants either receiving a discount for produce purchases or bonus coupons or currency with which they can purchase additional produce. These programs in place for the past 10-12 years have been enormously successful in supporting local farmers and bringing low income participants to farmers markets.
Numerous studies[iii] indicate an increased purchasing of fruits and vegetables. Therefore, financial incentives for fruit and vegetables can be an effective strategy for food assistance programs to increase healthy purchases and improve dietary intake in low-income families.
3.2 Farm to School[iv]
Farm to School enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education sites. Students gain access to healthy, local foods as well as education opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips. Farm to school empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. Farm to school implementation differs by location but always includes one or more of the following:
The USDA conducts a biennial census[vi] of farm to school programs, finding that 42% of schools participate in farm to school activities, spending $789 million per year on local agricultural products, with 17,089 salad bars and 7101 school gardens. Key policies include:
Farm to School programs have the potential to create connections among classrooms, cafeterias, and gardens, involving teachers, students, cafeteria workers, parents, administrators and farmers in activities that support good health, nutrition, agriculture and the local economy[x].
3.3 Produce Plus[xi]
One market-based solution is ‘Produce Plus’ in Washington DC. While many US cities now run ‘matching schemes’ whereby benefits recipients can ‘double up’ money spent at farmers markets, Produce Plus goes further, giving $10 per household per farmers market to spend on fresh produce, as long as the recipient is receiving a key benefit (including Medicare, SNAP or WIC). The uptake has been impressive, and the city’s Department of Health has steadily increased funding, from $200,000 in early years to $1.2million in 2015-6. When market sellers know they will receive an income for their produce, they’re more likely to site themselves in lower-income areas. Farmers’ markets are now located in poorer areas of the city which have life expectancies up to 15 years lower than wealthier wards, tracking along lines of racial disparity. Programme providers DC Greens are working with healthcare providers to analyse data from card use that could help better understand the links between access to fresh produce and medical outcomes. The program is also assisted by volunteers who are trained to give out vouchers at each market, 30% of whom are Produce Plus customers. DC Greens’ outreach specialist travels to senior citizen centres and public housing projects to enlist program and volunteer participation. Social media platforms are used to communicate news about the program, markets and available food.
3.4 Put Food in the Budget[xii]
This is a campaign group in Ontario, Canada, which have placed corporate tax avoidance and living wage legislation at the centre of their anti-hunger campaigns, arguing that current North American policies to relieve tax for surplus food-donating companies maintains a wasteful food supply chain whilst avoiding the root cause of the problem: low incomes and unequal wealth distribution. The “Put Food in the Budget” campaign had two demands. The first demand was for an immediate $100-a-month increase for every adult in Ontario receiving social assistance. The second demand was that the proposed Social Assistance Review Commission recommendations be implemented, meaning rates should be at a level that ensured a life of health and dignity.
3.5 Food Policy for Canada: Everyone at the Table[xiii]
This policy was announced in June 2019 by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Marie-Claude Bibeau. The central aim is to produce a just and sustainable food system that ensures everyone’s right to food. The policy aims to bolster the economic impact of the agri-food sector while tackling issues like waste and childhood hunger. Building on a consultation with approximately 45,000 Canadians through a series of regional town halls, a major summit, and an online survey, the government will invest $134 million in this area. Included is a local food infrastructure fund worth $50 million that will support community-led projects to drive access to safe, culturally diverse and healthy food. There will also be initiatives to tackle food insecurity in Northern and isolated communities, and a “challenge fund” that will fund strategies to reduce food waste.
4.0 Summary and recommendations
4.1 We recommend that approaches to hunger are linked to broader economic justice concerns, ensuring that wages and welfare payments are demonstrably adequate to cover living costs. This is crucial if we are to consider realising the Sustainable Development Goal of ending UK hunger by 2030.
4.2 We would recommend the appointment of a minister with direct responsibilities for addressing food insecurity and its relation to other aspects of inequality by ensuring the Right to Food, and recognising that this problem is increasingly affecting those who are in work.
4.3 We need an understanding of how food insecurity intersects with multiple factors. Voices for Halton, a group of Ontario community advocates, meet regularly to discuss their struggles to navigate parenting, mental and physical ill health, work, housing, racism, gender and the sense of being excluded from participating in everyday life as a ‘worthwhile’ citizen, and explore ways to feed this into policy-making.
4.4 There needs to be greater recognition of the vital role of government in creating and sustaining damaging narratives that we have seen grow in popularity in British welfare policy in recent years, hailing greater individual ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’ (as evident in certain aspects of the Universal Credit application process). While of course the individual plays a major part in directing his or her life, US household food insecurity measurements reveal that policies to curb social supports (such as America’s PRWORA reforms of the mid-1990s) do in fact worsen food insecurity[xiv]. To this end, there is a need to change the narrative about hunger towards it being about a violation of human rights and not the fault of the food insecure nor the primary responsibility of charity.
4.5 We recommend community support and government protection are vital parts of enabling people to access opportunities to move out of poverty and to ensure they do not fall through the safety net when they are unable to do so, which is hugely costly to both productivity and to health and legal systems[xv].
4.6 We would recommend support models of food provision based on community inclusion and a holistic approach to food and eating e.g. Canada’s Community Food Centre model combines healthy food bank provision with community gardening, tailored social services, advocacy, and community kitchens and peer-led cooking[xvi].
Dr Kayleigh Garthwaite
11th September 2019
Spring, C. (2016) Learning lessons from America's surplus food redistribution infrastructure. A report for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Report available at: https://www.wcmt.org.uk/fellows/reports/learning-lessons-americas-surplus-food-redistribution-infrastructure
[ii] Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) Frequently Asked Questions https://nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resources/20190520-GusNIP-2019-FAQS.pdf
[iii] Polacsek, M., Moran, A., Thorndike, A.N., Boulos, R., Franckle, R.L., Greene, J.C., Blue, D.J., Block, J.P. and Rimm, E.B., 2018. A supermarket double-dollar incentive program increases purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables among low-income families with children: the Healthy Double Study. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 50(3), pp.217-228. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1499404617308965
[x] Joshi, A., Azuma, A. M., & Feenstra, G. (2008). Do farm-to-school programs make a difference? Findings and future research needs. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 3(2-3), 229-246.
[xiv] Borjas, G. J. (2004). Food insecurity and public assistance. Journal of Public Economics, 88 (7-8), 1421–1443. doi:10.1016/S0047-2727(02)00188-3
[xv] Tarasuk, V., and Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health (2015). Position Statement on Responses to Food Insecurity, 1–8. Available at: http://ow.ly/JVAg3058HC8http://ow.ly/JVAg3058HC8
[xvi] Mayfield, S. (2015). Involving Charitable Food Providers in Advocacy Efforts – Lessons from Canada. A report for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. http://www.wcmt.org.uk/fellows/reports/involving-charitable-food-providers-advocacy-efforts-%E2%80%93-lessons-canada