Fresh look at food comments

David Edwards is a writer who lives in Sheffield and runs the Words Count agency in the city.
David Edwards is a writer who lives in Sheffield and runs the Words Count agency in the city.
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Lady Jenkin gained some unwanted attention last week when she declared that one of the principal causes of food poverty was that “poor people do not know how to cook”. To illustrate her point she compared her 4p porridge breakfast to the 25p cost of a bowl of sugary cereal.

This is the kind of simple but powerful argument that makes you think “Yes that’s right” – except it isn’t. There are a number of factors as to why the poorer you are the less healthy your diet is likely to be. It is often hard to buy healthy fresh food locally at a reasonable prices. Cheap fast food outlets proliferate and offer more calories to the pound, so at least your family won’t feel hungry. You may not be able to afford a cooker or equipment, and, if you are not a confident cook, can you risk a meal that doesn’t turn out well, when there’s no other food in the house? There are families on low incomes who cook nutritious food, but it is still the case that, for those in poverty, it is a lot tougher to budget, shop for and cook healthy meals.

Lady Jenkin quickly withdrew her comments and apologised. Nevertheless, her statement shows how easy it is to make judgements about other people’s circumstances.

We are living in an increasingly divided society. The top 5 per cent are doing rather nicely, while the further you come down the income scale the tougher life has become.

Lady Jenkin’s comment was the latest example of a long and shabby tradition whereby the better-off members of our society tell poorer people how to live their lives without any understanding of the daily experience of families living in poverty.

This lack of empathy was evident again when George Osborne took umbrage at the response to his plans to reduce the state to levels not seen since the 1930s. He argued that similar comments had been made at the beginning of this parliament and the world had not ‘fallen in’. Maybe not for you George, but the families relying on Sheffield’s 16 food banks for their Christmas meal may take a different view.

As Christmas comes around perhaps we could all reflect on whether we really want a society where poverty and hunger for large numbers of our community is considered acceptable.