Margaret Saner, CEO, Cambridge City Foodbank
According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), as many as one in 10 people in Britain have been forced to use foodbanks during the coronavirus pandemic. In Cambridge, this was reflected as we saw an 8% increase in referrals to Cambridge City Foodbank from March-July 2020, representing a 23% increase in the number of people fed, including a 28% increase in the number of children fed, compared with the same time in the previous year. As we find ourselves in the middle of a second national lockdown, with the furlough scheme extended until March 2021, we are still extremely conscious that the worst might still be to come.
The National Food Strategy – which has been created by the FSA’s independent COVID-19 expert advisory panel to analyse the impact of the pandemic on the UK’s food system – concludes that, “in the post-lockdown recession, many more families will struggle to feed themselves adequately”. The issues of poverty are not going away. If anything, post-COVID, the issues will be exacerbated.
With increasing food insecurity comes a growing risk of both malnutrition and obesity; the FSA reports that, when faced with financial difficulty, too many people quickly cut calorie intake and reduce the quality of the food eaten – with far-reaching physical and emotional impact. Speaking on behalf of Cambridge City Foodbank, it is our objective to ensure that we not only provide food and essential supplies for people facing crisis, but that we place a focus on the quality of food, and that our food parcels contain sufficient nutrition for at least three days’ worth of healthy, balanced meals for individuals and families. As part of this mission, it is essential that we cater for our service users with allergies and intolerances and religious or personal beliefs, that may restrict them from eating certain foods.
It is estimated that coeliac disease affects at least 1 in 100 people in the UK and in Europe, and there are currently around 1.1 million people in the UK following a vegan diet, with a further 3.4 million now vegetarian. The latest ONS data suggests there are 3.4million Muslims in the UK, who can only eat halal foods. On top of this, it is estimated that 1 in 50 children in the UK have a nut allergy, and the prevalence of cow’s milk allergy in children is around 2%-3%. In Cambridge, we have over 9,000 individuals using Cambridge City Foodbank every year, many with specific dietary needs, which might be related to medical conditions; ethical, cultural or religious beliefs; or simply personal preference.
Data on a national level and locally in Cambridge shows that there is a new wave of people needing to access emergency food bank support due to financial issues as a result of reduced income and redundancy. As we prepare for the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is very timely for us to encourage a range of donations – thinking about the usual foods we always need more of, like rice, sweetcorn and nuts, but also those less common items that would be so gratefully received by someone with a special dietary need. For example: plant-based, dairy-free milk; gluten-free staples including pasta, bread and cereals; long-life vegan foods providing protein like lentils, tinned chickpeas, beans and seeds; and tinned meats that are halal certified. We’re not looking for branded items of great expense; indeed, we are fortunate to live in a time when supermarkets are constantly innovating and updating their ranges with more ‘free-from’ products, offering these special products at mostly affordable prices.
If you are personally living with an allergy or special dietary need, or you have a dependent who has these requirements, I am sure you empathise with the struggle to find something suitable to eat. In this time of crisis across our city, and across the world, we hope that the Cambridge community will give a thought to those who require emergency food provision and will continue to donate food for all of those different needs. For someone accessing emergency food provision via our food banks, getting there to discover that they cannot eat many of the things in their parcel can be enormously disappointing and frustrating, and we would like to have a good stock of ‘alternative items’ people can access. Young, old, vegan, meat eater, lactose intolerant, coeliac – food poverty doesn’t discriminate and we need your support.