On 27th October 2017 we launched our report 'Hungry for Change' at the Old Kirk and Muirhouse church hall.
We asked people who attended to make 'pledges' to help alleviate food insecurity in north Edinburgh. Here is an account of the event and some of the pledges we received.
Some random thoughts by Alan Fisher, member of PCHP Food Advisory Group.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of black drapes, created by local community’s “Centipede Project” for their annual Harvest Banquets with its key quotes on the strategic importance of food, a mixed group of food-focussed locals, projects and elected representatives met to share ideas and food using the launch of the report as it’s excuse – as if you need an excuse to share good food & ideas with friends (new or old).
Once the meeting’s hors d'oeuvre (the welcomes & safety messages from the host, Stephen Ashley-Emery), were over, the first course of the meeting was lead off by Anita Aggarwal of the PCHP. Anita described the origins and process of the report, emphasising that the main point was to give a voice to those living with the experience of food insecurity and those working beside them. She emphasised their experience, (and how differently it is portrayed), and that it covers:
- uncovering how people arrived at food insecurity (complicated & varied);
- what the community is doing in response (more than generally thought);
- that there are key messages for decision-makers (not all obvious).
That poverty sits below most of the findings should be no surprise to (m)any, and food poverty is just a symptom of this wider experience: as one person interviewed for the report said, “there is more that needs to be fixed than just the food”. Sooooo simple just to quote large sections of the report, please read it for yourselves by clicking here. (Anita managed to summarise all this in a clear way).
The ‘main course’ of the meeting, after a wonderful lunch including local produce, was Martin Johnstone (former chair of the Government’s ‘Independent Food Poverty Working Group’) emphasising that poverty can’t be eradicated without involving the poor themselves. He gave a small list of ingredients to create a ‘food movement’ which deliberately is focussed on the poor. These must include (yes) money and food, but without a base of law, involvement of the community, and done with dignity, it will not be planning for success. The flavouring for this course came courtesy of local activists speaking of their experience, including Sean Fitzharris who had everyone enthralled by his story of developing ‘mum and dad cooking’, with its inclusive family focus. Fortunately time did not allow for his views on how poverty is not being eradicated by the current system of PIP reviews ………
We had asked that there be some form of outcome from the meeting, a response from locals, organisations & elected reps, which could be monitored locally, say by our “Food for Thought” forum. Dierdre Brock MP said that in Westminster, there’s a lot of talk about food poverty and a report like this could spur action to change peoples’ lives. The voices in the report chime with ones she hears in her surgeries, especially ones to do with benefit changes, though notes that in Westminster there is a lack of comprehension of how real people live which makes making changes such as ‘food as a human right’ so much harder.
Ben McPherson MSP appreciated that the report shines a light on the scandal of food poverty. He believes that the responsibility falls on all of us to change the situation. Here, Ben points out the difference between ‘fault’ and ‘responsibility’: the fault for the situation lies with Westminster but we all bear the responsibility to find ways change the situation at whatever level [slightly more positive than “a big boy did it and ran away”]. As for ‘Food as a Human Right’, he noted that the Scottish Government is looking into this and will be reporting soon - which will need to take account of low wage/zero hours contracts, improving appropriate/affordable housing etc. He finished by sharing that “Aspiring community” funds were launched last year and that the budget for the next year will soon be dispersed.
What comes clearly from the report is that the local community in north west Edinburgh is not waiting for structural solutions, but as evidenced in the report is pursuing local solutions to improving local capacity and capability to reduce food poverty. They are doing this as individuals and small supportive groups, all done with a dignity appreciated by both local workers and (more importantly) local people.
The ‘Food for Thought’ forum for example will continue with its vision of:
“We believe everyone in North Edinburgh should have access to a tasty, enjoyable, nutritious diet. We want food to be a central part of our thriving community, bringing people together to grow, bake, cook and eat.
We want to see our community skilled and empowered to grow and cook good quality food for their families, friends and neighbours, and to see more local employment opportunities created in the production, distribution and preparation of the food we eat.
Our members are working towards aspects of this shared vision, and we believe that by working together we are stronger and better able to contribute to the flourishing of North Edinburgh”.
If we can maintain effective communication of our shared vision, similar to that outlined by Martin Johnstone, of a food movement which involves us all, then reports such as “Hungry for change” become lines in the sand which we as a civilised society can not retreat behind.
Our thanks to all involved in the report, and the event – a credit to north Edinburgh’s resilience.
All Hallows Eve, 2017
Martin Johnstone why this report is important.
Martin Johnstone is Secretary of the Church of Scotland’s Church & Society Council. He is involved in a range of anti-poverty organisations and chaired the Scottish Government’s Independent Food Poverty Working Group
Martin spoke about the wisdom he got from a couple of friends: Paul and Gloria.
Paul, who is now almost 90, thought the only way to understand the Bible was to listen to people who have experienced poverty. A man with broad experiences and who shared prison with Martin Luther King. He thinks the black civil rights would not have been achieved had white people run it. The movement to eradicate poverty won’t be achieved until the people experiencing poverty lead the change.
Gloria, who suffers a chronic condition that led to poor physical health, she had to end using food banks ‘the shame to use the local food bank, you feel diminished as a human.’
Martin also spoke about the shame people feel when they can’t provide for themselves and their families. But he stated that the shame does not fall from them but from our shoulders as a society, those who do not change our society. Martin includes himself in that.
There has to be a commitment to dignity.
Dignity is the core ingredient of any food poverty commitment, for the funders, for the providers and for those who are the participants. There is no such thing in this country such as food poverty because there is no shortage of food, what there is, it’s shortage of money.
Decent adequate food should be enshrined by law. If the Scottish government does so it will be one of the first countries in the world to do so. We’ll all have the right to food, good nutritious food, not the scraps of the rich.
PCHP has been pioneering in understanding the importance of food, it’s the stuff that nurtures our body, mind and spirit. It helps to create community. It is important now and in years to come.
Martin reinforced that the problem in Scotland is about money, not food, but maybe we’ll have to deal with both problems in the future. We need to find solutions now. None of this can be done in isolation. We have to strength our communities and resist to the myths that people tell us about our communities.
It is all about money, about people, about dignity, about legislation.
Sean Fitzharris, food activist and resident of north Edinburgh
Sean Fitzharris is a local resident who runs cooking classes with local families and sits on Pilton Community Health Project's food advisory group. He supported this report by conducting interviews and taking part in the analysis and discussion of its findings.
He started as a participant of the MMM… (Mens Making Meals) at PCHP. This encouraged him to get training and leading family cooking sessions (MAD cooking).
Sean said that there are still barriers for using venues, such as Craigroyston HS. , he volunteered to do the MAD cooking but he experienced barriers to use the school kitchen. Sean believes a community kitchen would be great in the area.
He’s also now volunteering to do the shopping for the Fidra Court kitchen and he’s aware of other volunteers in the area keen to prepare meals, such as Fidra, the Bield House but they are also facing barriers.
Deidre Brock, MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
Deidre starts by thanking everyone involved in the report, which is timely. She says that in Westminster, there’s a lot of talk about food poverty and a report like this could spur action which could change peoples’ lives. The voices in the report are similar to the ones she hears in her surgery, especially ones to do with benefit changes. She says the situation is probably the same all over the country.
She agrees that the report is right in that poverty is a result of wage squeeze. Many people are only surviving but the UK government doesn’t want to hear about the poor. She says that in Westminster, there is a lack of comprehension of how real people live. “Nothing in the report I disagree with”, she says, citing the first message on p.12 of the report that Food is a human right, as one she agrees with. When you make food difficult, you strip people of their dignity. Deidre offers this advice – when you see people queuing at the food bank, tell them it’s not their fault.
She goes on to say that in contrast to Westminster, there are a lot of people across all parties in the Scottish parliament, who genuinely want to see people’s lives improve. Politicians in Holyrood want to do what’s best for the people of Scotland. Deidre says that things will improve if we get more Benefit powers from Westminster. She finishes by saying that majority of the work to improve people’s lives is best done by organisations like PCHP who get people together to make changes and build the community to forge a real change and future together.
Ben Macpherson, MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith
Ben congratulated all involved for their work on the report.
Works of organisations like PCHP, Granton Community Gardens and Spartans is important and the report shines light on these.
Hunger is more than just food. Food affects health and well-being, loneliness and other issues.
Ben talked about a policy for change through the devolved government and would support move to impress on Westminster to make the changes we want.
Ben says that the Hungry for Change report illustrates the scandal of food poverty and that he believes that the responsibility falls on all of us to change the situation. Here, Ben points out the difference between ‘fault’ and ‘responsibility’. The fault for the situation lies with Westminster but we all bear the responsibility to change the situation.
Food as a Human Right – Scottish government is looking into this and will be reporting soon. He is aware of the work Nourish Scotland is doing. He also mentions Good food Nation and work to make positive things happen. Nobody should have to rely on foodbanks.
Job Creation. Scottish government is working on a ‘fair work’ policy. Even though the Scottish government cannot legislate for minimum wage Ben believes that the Accredited Living Wage shows leadership and encouragement and he supports this.
Ben goes further to say that if we have jurisdiction in employment law in Scotland, “I would seek to get rid of zero hours tomorrow”. We need better employment law and with Brexit we need more people to come from Scotland. Ben says that if we get relevant powers, “I will seek a new system based on dignity and respect.
Peter Strong, North West Localities Manager
The new localities can bring a new focus across the north west locality.
Facilities are there already but we have to ensure a better access and use. We have to make sure that employers are offering good and fair wages and offers.
We want to work closely within the community and to ensure that facilities are used at their capacity, schools, community centres.
We have to work with people, not for them.
They are having conversations with CAN on how to build a trusting working relationship, with mutual understanding and respect.
Support our new community meal workers as much as possible to make the project successful. Enable community gardeners at my job to maximise the food they can grow, and to be able to access available resources.
Trying to use donated food (supermarkets/food share/ or locally grown in community gardens) for various community meetings and functions.
Sharing food storing spaces between organisations and individuals.
Make sure Pilton’s voice is heard by the right people at the right time in the right places. – Bill Gray, Community Food and Health (Scotland), NHS Health Scotland
I pledge to work alongside the community to realise its ambitions to create well paid sustainable jobs, to be involved in the economic development of the area and to ensure the north Edinburgh is not left with crumbs from the table of the city. – Julie Smith, Community Action North
We will share your amazing work and ‘Hungry for Change’ to show people’s experience of and solutions to food insecurity. – Polly Jones, A Menu for Change
As a part of Nourish Scotland, I’ll keep working with other organisations community activists and decision-makers to make sure that dignity is put at the heart of our responses to food insecurity. We support the community food sector and bring home the right to food in Scottish legislation and policy. Thank you.
Even more support to community groups. Listen to what they want. Botanic Gardens
I will publicise and campaign for the proposals in it and do all I can to support community food initiatives, and donate food whenever I go to the supermarket.
I will buy as much as I need to not throw away. I will plan my shopping and meals. I can share my food with my neighbour.
Food sharing with friends and neighbours (especially elderly, who may be struggling with cooking).
Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and encourage others to do the so.
More food collection for food-banks
Sharing more information where to get cheaper/free food.