It’s nearly 4 years since I interviewed Prof Graham Riches about growing levels of hunger in rich countries in Europe and North America. Since then we’ve had the Hungry for Change report from the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which I chaired, and the ongoing EndHungerUK campaign in the UK. When I heard Graham had just published a new book Food Bank Nations. Poverty, Corporate Charity and the Right to Food I asked him to explain why. Below is what he wrote ( listen here to Olivier De Schutter, the second rapporteur on the Right to Food talk about what that right means):
Food Bank Nations. Poverty, Corporate Charity and the Right to Food (Routledge, 2018)
When invited to write a text about food and poverty in 2015, I wondered why another book. Would it simply be a case of changing the dates of previous studies written about charitable food banking and the recurring welfare crises dating back to the mid-1980s or was there something new that needed to be said or to be reiterated. In fact I felt more like writing a polemic. Over the years I had come to understand domestic hunger in the rich world as the deep hole and moral vacuum at the centre of neoliberalism: a perpetual tragedy of ‘left-over’ food for ‘left behind’ people.
A bundle of questions were uppermost in my mind. Morally is feeding corporate food waste to hungry people really the best we can do while the indifferent state looks on? What explains Big Food’s corporate capture of US style food banking now exported across OECD member states? Is it really OK to leave the hungry poor to the corporate social responsibility (aka investment) of the likes of Walmart and transnational food retailing giants while publicly funded income security and social safety nets are shredded to be replaced by surplus food aid?
Moreover in the interests of solidarity, food democracy and social justice why and how might civil society hold uncaring governments to account? What is the role for civil society with a ‘right to food bite’ as a counter-narrative to corporate food relief and as a platform for human rights action? What are the moral, legal and political obligations of the state as the ‘primary duty bearer’ ensuring food security for all, especially those on the outside looking in?
Food Bank Nations is my account, review and analysis of the history and institutionalization of food banking with its roots in the USA and Canada including its global spread and corporate capture across the OECD. As the indifferent state looks on philanthrocapitalism is shown to be an ineffective response making false claims about solidarity with the poor undermining the human right to adequate food and nutrition. The right to food has significant implications for public policy, with governments meeting their economic, social and cultural rights obligations under international law. It requires civil society to act with a ‘right to food bite’.”
Graham Riches, Emeritus professor of Social Work, University of British Columbia, Canada
Other books: Food Banks and the Welfare Crisis (Ottawa, CCSD, 1986)
First World Hunger. Food Security and Welfare Politics ed, (Macmillan, 1997)
First World Hunger Revisited. Food Charity or the Right to Food? co-ed with Tiina Silvasti (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
You might also like to hear my interview with Andy Fischer, author of Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-hunger Groups warning others not copy failed US foodbanks model.