These are shocking figures. A society that sees charitable feeding programs as acceptable is a society in decline. In his 2002 report, Food Banks and Food Security: Welfare Reform, Human Rights and Social Policy, Lessons from Canada?, Graham Riches wrote:
The rise of food banks in Canada is concrete evidence both of the breakdown of the social safety net and the commodification of social assistance. As such, they undermine the state”s obligation, as ratified in international conventions, to respect, protect and fulfill the human right to food. They enable governments to look the other way and neglect food poverty and nutritional health and well-being.
Writing in the August 24, 2012 Guardian, Richard Seymour identified “a shift from welfare to the punitive management of poverty.” Neoliberal policies have moved wealth upward and pushed people into joblessness and increased poverty. He gave the example of the Bush administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives:
The idea was that to be unemployed, addicted, homeless or hungry was to have merely a personal misfortune, reflecting personal failure. The recipient of such welfare is thus not just dependent, but at a moral deficit. The flipside of this paternalistic humanitarianism was the fear and loathing for the poor, which in the UK has been expressed in the spiteful locution “chav” [defined by Oxford Dictionaries online as "a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of (real or imitation) designer clothes"].
However, it would be mistaken to suppose that such precarity is restricted to the bottom rung of society. The effects of precarity run right up the chain of social classes and strata. While the urban poor are the most directly blighted, poverty and malnourishment act as a whip to discipline the whole workforce. The threat is not just of perpetual insecurity and hunger, but also of losing the status of respectability conferred by employment, and thus “self-reliance”. And as Shanene Thorpe discovered, as welfare is shredded, the boundaries of respectability are shifting upwards, including more people in the ranks of the culpable “underclass”. Those fortunate enough to stay just the right side of this divide will have added motivation to be compliant; docile toward social superiors, viciously competitive towards everyone else. Now we are all precarious.
In spite of the hard work and compassion of people who operate, donate to, and benefit from food banks and other feeding programs, only a fraction of the people who are food insecure can be served by them. Their resources are too limited to keep hunger at bay for their millions of clients. They can do nothing for the millions more who never walk through their doors.
Next: Time to Make Food Banks Unnecessary?
Photos 1 and 3: Thinkstock; Photo 2: Boston Food Bank, via Wikimedia Commons
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