In our primary school days, this time of year would normally be heralded by the reappearance of the ‘Cauliflowers Fluffy’ song in assemblies and copious amounts of pasta brought in for Harvest Festival celebrations. Although our days of singing in assemblies are now over, it would be remiss to neglect the true meaning of those twee songs – with food and energy prices indeterminately skyrocketing, foodbanks and harvest donations are needed now more than ever.
The government defines food insecurity or food poverty as the inability to access “an adequate quality or quantity of food in socially acceptable ways”, and in January of this year, The Food Foundation found that 17.7% of UK households experienced food insecurity, with public sector workers being among those hit the hardest. With soaring energy costs and food prices rising by 12.2.% in the year to September 2023, it is little surprise that households are having to tighten their belts, often at the expense of adequate nutrition. While prices for milk, cheese and eggs have stabilised over the past few months, the start of the wintry weather conditions are causing the eating vs heating decisions to arise once more.
Correspondingly, more and more people are turning to foodbanks run by the Trussell Trust to help put food on the table. According to their website, the Trussell Trust distributed nearly 3 million emergency food parcels in the period from April 2022 to March 2023 – the highest figure on record. Perhaps more alarmingly, over a third of these parcels were distributed to children; despite the availability of free school meals, some news outlets estimate that around 800,000 children living in food poverty are still not eligible, largely owing to their postcode. A bleak image indeed, one that was recently highlighted by footballer Marcus Rashford in his campaign for free school meals during school holidays. There’s a horrible irony behind schoolchildren rhyming various fruits and vegetables in harvest songs when a growing number of them are accustomed to empty fridges and cupboards.
While the figures for food parcel distribution in the North East are lower than in other regions, the student community is feeling the pinch. While Durham University has set up an Instant Access Hardship Fund to help with the cost of living, Durham SU has pointed out that £50 per month cannot keep up with the £30 one person spends on food in a week. There have also been reports of reduced food offerings in catered colleges, with the removal of pastries at breakfast, deli options at lunchtimes and desserts at dinnertimes. While the removal of these extras is certainly a far cry from food poverty, it’s clear that rising costs aren’t going by unnoticed.
Of course, there is support available, with the Durham SU setting up a free Student Pantry in response to the rising cost of living, and foodbank locations in Old Elvet and Gilesgate. However, it’s crucial to remember that the majority of this support relies on donations of both the produce and monetary kind. So, next time you’re in Tesco picking up a pint of milk, consider dropping off a can of beans to the SU as you start your trudge back up Church Street. Or, more simply, donate what you’d spend on a drink to the Student Pantry, via the JustGiving page here.
Indeed, cauliflowers may be fluffy and cabbages green, but food insecurity is higher than we’ve ever seen.