The right to food, or the right sort of food?

21 October 2013 by

junkfoodpyramidThere have been many interesting contributions to the  debate triggered by Geraldine van Beuren’s fascinating guest post on the right to food.

But one comment deserves prominence in a post of its own. It comes from veteran blogger 1923thebook and he has this to say:

Growing up in the North of England in the 1920s and 1930s, I knew hunger as did my ancestors who despite the “charter of the forest” lived miserable, hungry, short lives while Britain’s ruling classes grew fat on the spoils of Empire. What I experienced as a lad along with the rest of my working class generation was famine and despite recent news reports, we are not experiencing the wide spread hunger that occurred in my youth when there was no social welfare state.

This is not to say that there is not hunger in today’s Britain because as joblessness increases poverty creeps back into this nation’s villages and cities like an ebb tide. But malnutrition today is not caused by want of food but the type food on offer to the poor which is empty of nutrition but rich in fat, sodium and chemicals that only a food scientist without a moral conscience could devise.

The issue in this country shouldn’t be about one’s right to food, the issue must be about one’s right to food that has quality and that is not going to happen unless we neuter the food lobby’s influence on parliament and change the way food is farmed, processed and delivered to our stores. Don’t get me wrong because what we face today is a crisis and too many lives have been ruined by this austerity. But no matter how real 21st century want is to those who must endure it,they still don’t know, thank god, the ravenous despair of the Great Depression. Yet if we continue down this road of cutbacks who knows, perhaps my yesterday will be everyone’s tomorrow?

Thank you for those thoughts, and it is important to be reminded that we should focus not simply on the fact of food but its quality.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Victoria: with you as with 1923thebook I wish you would specify what changes you want made. Equitable and sustainable are words which cover a multitude of sins: please tell us which you want us to commit!

  2. Victoria says:

    Given the increased levels of poverty, which have resulted in greater food insecurity. I believe is time to start talking about food sovereignty -making sure that the food system in the UK is equitable and sustainable-. This is a concept that has so far been better understood in the Global South and one from which we still have to learn.

  3. Deb says:

    Thank you. I could not agree more that this is the real issue.

  4. Andrew says:

    Let’s think about that. Our Victorian predecessors passed laws to forbid various poisonous ingredients which had previously been put into food, and the process has gone on since – some of us remember when tinned peas were a bright chemical green!

    But you can still buy foods which if taken in excess or as the sole diet are harmful or inadequate. And some people will buy them all the time. Are we going to stop that? That’s the logic of what 1923thebook seems to be saying.

    The Daily Hate Mail would call that the Nanny State and unlikely as the proposition may sound the Daily Hate Mail would be right. Sometimes we all want to a quick, easy, tasty but not very healthy processed meal, sodium and fat and all. The fact that some among us will eat such rubbish every day is no reason to forbid it – any more than any sensible society tries to ban alcohol (attempts such as in Russia and then the USSR, 1914-24, where one dictatorship succeeded another and neither could stop the Demon Drink – let alone the USA in the Twenties – are all the warning we should need) because some people abuse it.

    Or does 1923thebook propose differential taxes on “bad” food? Quite apart from the policy of taxing food being vicious beyond belief, does he want to tax what the poor buy more than what the better-off buy?

    If he does not want bans or taxes perhaps he’d explain what he has in mind!

  5. Tim says:

    I think food is a good starting point for developing humane policy on social security. In one of the richest countries in the world it is not only quite wrong that anybody should go hungry, but also that anybody should be left without heat, clothes or shelter. This is consistent with article 25. Nobody argues against this, even for prisoners. Yet people who have not committed any offence are deprived of this right because of some nasty little trick devised by right-wingers.

    This nasty little trick involves blame. They set up difficult or even insuperable conditions and then snatch away people’s rights once they fail to meet these conditions. Nobody should be set up and deprived in this way.

  6. The main debate around social and economic rights, such as this ‘right to food’, is whether they should be enforced through legal means (e.g. a court declaring that someone’s right to food was broken) or political means (e.g. parliament ensuring government provides sufficient food to everyone). The concern of those favouring political methods usually is that the legal methods are not the most effective way of securing those rights, because the matter has implications beyond the issues before the court.

    The post above seems to highlight that problem quite well. If the courts held that there was a legally enforceable right to food, it is possible that the way the government would try to circumvent its liability is by providing as much cheap food as possible. The result would be a lack of nutrition, as explained above.

    Perhaps the problem is in how the right is framed. A right to food itself does not make sense. Food is not inherently good unless you think everyone has a right to enjoy the satisfaction gained from eating (but even then that would depend on what food you eat). A right against being hungry, or suffering from malnutrition, makes a lot more sense.

    Too often we forget what the end result of our goals are. The government wants economic growth, but it only wants it to secure good living standards. People want food, but they only want it to secure their health. They don’t want food for food’s sake. When we are drafting rights we should be careful to be exact about the interest we are protecting. It is not a food interest but rather a hunger interest. Once we recognise that, it is clear that if courts protected that interest then they would avoid the problem outlined above.

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