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Wooden box full of colourful vegetables like peppers, runner beans and beetroot Wooden box full of colourful vegetables like peppers, runner beans and beetroot

Summer, Holidays and Growing Risks

By Sara Venn

The summer is a tricky time for growers. So much has burst into life, so much flowering with potential and so much running around.

Caught between the joy of being overcome by the joy of growth and running around trying to find enough water to keep it all going on those 36 degree days. And then you take a holiday and spend every day worrying about the plants you have left behind.

Well it isn’t too far a leap to understand why so many of our Incredible Edible groups are involved in the work of Holiday Hunger. So much joy and life and growth and fun but always the risk that those plants will struggle to make it through the summer.

Holiday Hunger is the umbrella term for that period during the summer holidays from school where many kids from low income communities find it difficult to eat well. This in turn has a significant and proven effect on their long-term educational achievement. It is a bitter irony, holiday hunger. The Food Foundation has done some amazing work on this in the Children’s Future food Inquiry https://foodfoundation.org.uk/childrens-future-food-inquiry/. It robs children of the joy of long lazy summer days and makes they feel more acutely the division between them and their more affluent neighbours. We will come back to the term holiday hunger later…

Our Incredible Edible groups work in lots of ways in the area of summer provision and year-round food access. In Barnsley and Bristol we are part of the wider partnership of Feeding Britain. In Wales we team up with foodbanks and homeless shelters, in Ilfracombe we partner with local organisations to cook and share food… and these are just a few. We have hundreds of stories of the power of small actions to advocate forand act tocreate food justice.

And there is the point. In the last few sentences I have used the words holiday hunger, food access and food justice. Words matter, so let’s deal with that one head on.

There is a narrative captured in some of the words we use that intentionally or unintentionally blames those who are poor. Perhaps they could have made better choices, eaten better food, learned to cook, got a job. The Joseph Rountree Trust has produced some great stuff about how we should be cautious in the words we use and the narratives we support – https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/framing-toolkit-talking-about-poverty.

In one sense there is no such thing as food poverty, fuel poverty, period poverty. There is poverty. The lived experience of poverty is real and affects millions. Living in poverty limits your access to certain things that most other people in society enjoy. It limits your access to good food, good education, housing, health outcomes, greenspace, culture, art – the list goes on. When we talk of ‘food poverty’ sometimes we see it as the scapegoat for all our social ills. If only we could solve food poverty then everything would be ok, right? We load all our social ills on the scapegoat of food poverty and send it out into the desert. Problem solved. The problem is that ‘food poverty’ it the tip of the poverty iceberg. It is the bit we can see. The problem with taking the tip off an iceberg is that you can no longer see the mass beneath the waves, and that makes the hidden iceberg infinitely more dangerous.

When we talk of food poverty we should talk of poverty and food justice. Access to good food is a human right. The UN defines this as ‘the right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear’.

When people are not able to exercise their right to food it is not because they are weak or inept but because the system has failed.

In a sense the thing we call food poverty or holiday hunger is when two overlapping systems collide and the poorest suffer the consequences.

The food system has become hyper industrialised and food is a tradable commodity. The supply of food rests in the hand of a few corporations. On the whole, for most of the population this give cheap prices, even is the quality and environmental impact of that food is poor. For the poorest, the current food system serves them worst.

The other system is the economic system. The employment market, low paid insecure jobs, hard to navigate welfare systems.

When these two systems overlap their failures are magnified and the poor feel the bite of those systems. We call this complex systemic weakness, food poverty.

The reason Incredible Edible was founded was because when we look at some of the challenges facing our planet and its people we feel powerless to act. We are not. In over 120 groups with thousands of people we sue the power of small actions to catalyse change. We see that through the small thing we can do, we can make a difference and promote acts of kind resistance when the system is unthinking and unkind.

Our actions need to be matched with systems change. The Sustainable Development Goals start with two – No Poverty, No Huger. Us environmental types oten jump ahead to the other development goals but during this summer period as incredible people across the UK use small actions to define a different future as we demand and build a just future for the planet and its people.