Marcus Rashford back off the bench as the Tory’s fail again on school meals


MILK in last? Or, shudder, in first?

Jam before cream? Cream smeared on jam? Sourdough or farmhouse? Organic or ‘isn’t all that stuff about pesticides just nonsense to part fools from their money?’

There was a lively segment on Women’s Hour recently about the Brits and how they judge the contents of one another’s shopping baskets.

You are able to, and people do, sum up others by what they’re wheeling round the aisles in their trolleys.

Glance into a fellow shopper’s basket and if you spy there a plain loaf, Walkers crisps and Tetley, you’ll draw differing conclusions than were you to see Kettle Chips and Taylors of Harrowgate.

Own brand vs branded gives more layers of complexity still.

Kale and chia seeds might insinuate different personality traits than frozen veg mix and some roasted peanuts.

Food is never just food. There’s such an almighty amount of snobbery attached to what we choose to put in our mouths. Towards those of us who are lucky enough to have choice, of course.

It’s endlessly fascinating, the many and varied issues projected onto food, how we judge what’s eaten and who’s eating it.

Any discussion about the link between poverty and obesity inevitably leads to someone – likely someone who has never had to worry about it – lecturing that better education is the way forward.

If only, runs the narrative, someone could coach those on benefits to utilise an organic veg box, sales of frozen potato smiles would plummet.

The only socially acceptable time to eat cheap food is when one is a student. We make fondly teasing jokes about surviving on noodles and ketchup sandwiches as though cheap, poor nutrition is a bit of a lark when a young person is reading for a degree.

When it’s children living on white bread and tomato paste the situation is framed as a disgrace. When their struggling parents are living on the same it’s framed as a result of feckless laziness.

Being nerve-janglingly alert to every penny parted with in the supermarket is more than budgeting. It’s a stomach churning sense of freefall at even the thought of over spending.

I wonder how many of the people who fall into the poor-nutrition-as-laziness camp have ever felt that stress.

I can’t imagine many, if any, of those in charge of curating the contents of the shameful food parcels handed out to families in England this week have ever felt it.

Pictures circulated on social media earlier this week of food parcels being distributed by private suppliers on behalf of local councils to families normally in receipt of free school meals.

Designed to feed a child lunches for a week, one mum reported receiving two potatoes, one onion, two peppers, a satsuma, single tomato and carrot, two eggs wrapped in cling film, a small bag of grated cheese, a small tub of tuna mayo and another of soup powder.

Once you’ve made two baked potatoes and a soup of carrot, onion and water, you’ve really exhausted your options there.

Other packages contained befuddling items such as half a capsicum and a half tomato.

East Renfrewshire Council took a similar drubbing yesterday as a photograph of the contents of its food parcel, designed for one week of lunches, did the rounds on Twitter.

There were certainly no half tomatoes, but there was a packet of rolls that would be out of date by the time the child came to eat them.

Anti-poverty campaigner and premier league footballer Marcus Rashford, sick to the back teeth of the Tories scoring these own goals, was straight on it, giving the government a boot in the behind over yet another schools meals scandal.

Of course, there’s always someone who thinks they could feed a family for a month on three carrots and a punnet of grapes, so the usual suspects popped up to give suggestions on how they’d happily ration their food packages. Which is basically another way of saying the poor should be grateful for what they’re given.

There were a few tweets, in defence of families struggling to feed their children, about how cooking is a middle class privilege. It’s interesting how that position has pivoted through the generations. For my working class granny and her working class granny, the idea of not being able to cook, well, it wouldn’t have been an idea. It would have been unthinkable.

Rapid social change made cooking anti-feminist, and put a generation of women off doing it. Increasing numbers of women entering the workforce and decreasing numbers of single income households, where a man went out to work and a woman stayed home, meant cooking was a time drain and quick, processed foods became more popular.

Both affordability and lack of access limit the food choices of poorer families and, as an extra kicker, the options available tend to be obesogenic. Instead of blaming poverty, poorer people are blamed for being overweight and for putting a strain on the health service.

You can almost see where the food parcel companies are coming from with their choices. They don’t want to be seen to be giving children, especially not children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, unhealthy foods. Something noticeable from all the food parcels is their lack of any treats.

But if we can judge a person by their shopping basket, we judge a government by what it deems acceptable to feed its people. Boris Johnson’s children, all five or six or however many of them, aren’t sitting down to carrot flavoured water.

The message from these mishmashed selections is that this is not ok for the likes of us, but it’s ok for the likes of them. It’ll do for these families. A nice, healthy demi-tomato will be a step up from chips.

In some areas, these food parcels replace shopping vouchers. Those gave families greater, but still limited, choice. Some local authorities choose to give vouchers for stores that don’t sell cigarettes or alcohol so that parents aren’t tempted to repurpose money that should be going to their children.

It would be naive to think that never happens, but you’re talking only a tiny fraction. The majority of families are able to make sensible decisions for their own circumstances.

This week Glasgow City Council has announced it will give parents £25 a fortnight cash, paid directly into their bank accounts. This gives full autonomy to parents, and shows them a degree of respect lacking in the food parcels.

What it also speaks to is the fact that these school meal conversations keep arising because children, in increasing numbers, are living in poverty. That issue isn’t going to be solved by patching the gaps with a six pack of rolls, regardless of whether they’re ciabatta or well fired, it comes from putting money directly in pockets.


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