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rsz_sent_to_davidThey’re the biggest food story of the year. But are food banks really the answer to a recession-wracked Britain, or are they a symptom of more impoverished food thinking?

As Major Joe Anderson teams up with Tesco to promote The Mayor’s Hope Fund – aimed at engorging the city’s food banks – the spotlight on food poverty is stronger than ever.

The Mayor even kickstarted the scheme with a £25,000 donation from the City, saying that the fund will enable food banks to invest in their infrastructure. But are foodbanks the panacea poverty needs?

No – according to social enterprise cooking champions, Garston’s Can Cook Studio. Crowned Social Entrepreneurs of the Year last week at the Excellence in Social Enterprise Awards , the Studios run courses aimed at getting us all to foster a healthier relationship with the stuff we eat.

Studio head, Robbie Davison (pic), cuts through the confusion and conflicting claims to give us his take on a very modern food phenomenon…

“We’ve hosted two Food Poverty Conferences in the past six months involving over 130 organisations from across Merseyside. Everyone agreed that the target was to rid us of food banks altogether. Food banks do nothing more than keep food poverty where it is, in fact it could be argued that in the medium to longer term they become deeply part of the poverty cycle allowing the state to stand aside of its responsibilities and perpetuate hunger of a different kind.

“Food Aid, if we are to have it at all, should be about choice and quality and food banks are about neither. They prescribe the food packages they give out and none of it is about health; it’s all about food as fuel.

“Also imagine being a vegetarian or having a specific dietary need, little or nothing is offered to cater for different diets. Right now food aid is all about the wrong food been given out because the dominant mentality is that people are desperate so they will eat anything to cope. That’s completely the wrong way to look at the problem.

Unknown“Then there is costs and waste. It costs about £30 to put together a foodbank parcel for a
family of four, and it’s all processed food – we are working on making sure that this £30 goes much further and includes fresh food. The adjoining problem to this is that about 40% of people receiving the packages do not know how to cook and are throwing away food that
they could eat – we will stop this by teaching people to cook.

“We want Liverpool to become the first city to set a target of no food banks by 2016 – by
setting a two-year target everyone becomes focused on solutions rather than heads down
treating the problem.

“As part of offering part of the solution we are creating a programme that will become Food Aid+ – using the campaign title ‘The Food We Need’ – we will educate the donor so they only offer the food that people need, we will make sure fresh food is part of the food package people get and we will train everyone to cook the package they receive.

“Food parcels only ever start with the donor and too many donors – including supermarkets – think that those who need feeding should be grateful whatever is on offer – the Value Range of foods that every supermarket peddles are always prevalent in food banks but this is exactly the foodstuff that has little or nothing to do with quality or diet.

“So the first big step is to educate the donor and to do this the first part of the education is to ask everyone to donate only food that they would eat themselves and they consider healthier – this simple step would make such a difference to the quality of the food in the food aid supply chain.

“One thing to be thankful for about food poverty, is that it is putting food back into the heart of trying to find solutions to people’s problems. This is a real opportunity we need to build on.

“Once we can re-establish food as a centrepiece to our family lives and our communities
then we can start to talk about how people can find jobs working with food.

“For me it’s all about social mission first, business second. At Can Cook we work using the mission “Connecting People Through Food” and everything we do originates from this. There is absolutely no reason why there should be food poverty in this country.

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The New Shape of Street Food

“We need encourage and market a food culture that is all about the quality of the food and part of doing so is to have food events that are about food and provenance first rather than the ‘lets make money quick’ approach that seems to dominate the food events this city currently has.

“Everything we do at Can Cook has a social mission. For two years we have been developing a street food model that we hope will sell fantastic street food across Liverpool City Centre and train ex-offenders and unemployed graduates to become expert street food vendors.

“We want to create our own Training Academy to train the vendors and once they are trading they will have a profit share in all of the sales they generate. Its a unique model that could create over 30 jobs per year and establish street food in Liverpool that is the equal of anywhere in the UK.

“As a step in the right direction we’re building a street food truck by converting a sea-container into a mobile retail space – it’ll be on the streets very soon.

“We need a more diverse food offer across the city that is based on fast healthier food, that is not dominated by chains or the growth of chicken this burger that fast food outlets – this city has too many already. I am obviously hinting at building up the street food scene here.

“We’ve been in negotiations with the Council for over 18 months and the process has
not been easy. Lots of red tape, even now. I am hopeful that we are somewhere near to a reaching a conclusion. If we get the go ahead, we will raise up to £1m over the next 2 years to invest into creating great food outlets and in doing so employing on very good wages, lots of local people.

Can Cook Studios
Garston
www.cancook.co.uk