This is not a conversation about fresh fruit, vegetables, organics, consciously consuming, sugary foods, fat or obesity. It is a conversation of eating while you can, and when the opportunity arises, eating until you are full. This is a conversation about pride and dignity and wanting to offer food to your visitors and skipping meals to stretch out what’s left. This is a conversation about Food Security.
There is a rationale to food choices on low incomes, it is quite simply the largest number of individual food items that be purchased for the sum of money left after rent and utilities. With three kids at school this is about packing lunchboxes with numbers of items because the fear that someone will think you cannot feed your children is real. Filling is far more important than nutritional value.
Weeks with canned baked beans, creamed corn or spaghetti for 89cents are akin to unexpected winnings. These are the weeks that the loaves of the cheapest bread will be eaten with something other than jam. The ability to enter a supermarket and leave with six bags of groceries instead of two bags for the week defines success for parents raising children on low incomes in Aotearoa.
This is where you discover that adults can get by without breakfast, hell there’s people out there who choose not to eat breakfast or choose to restrict their food intake by measuring calories and then there are people who choose not to eat in order to ensure there will be two meals a day for most of the week. This is a privilege check not a health check.
Collecting day old food rescue bread from the community house means there is another $8.40 to spend. The bread is always hard though and pretty tough to eat but it doubles as dinner when you pull out the insides and bake a can of cream corn in it. That $8.40 really matters.
Food security walks hand in hand with the abuses perpetrated against people accessing financial support from Work and Income and the abuses of employers who refuse to commit to regular permanent or even full time hours for their lowest paid and most vulnerable staff. The abuses committed by those employers who claim they can only afford minimum wage pay rates and a guaranteed 6 hours a week of work. It’s the predecessor to moving house, to going without shoes, to almost any financial decision that could give away the real struggle going on at home.
As the rhetoric on poverty 2017 is being tested by politicians and variations of the usual soundbites are being rolled out, “poor people are druggies who don’t want to work, poor people are dirty and unable to care for a home, there’s work out there if you really want it and the perennial millennial favourite that young people just don’t want to work”. These pre-election narratives that repeated often enough will be believed as true, setting up the shared belief that there is a common enemy – people who are unemployed or impoverished.
This year it’s more important than ever that we challenge the narrative – affordable $400k homes will not help us. Decent affordable rentals, state homes, secure jobs with decent wages and ensuring the Social Welfare Act upholds the dignity and respect of people in Aotearoa are the short term necessities. Deliver a government that delivers these, then we can talk about the longer term possibilities of Universal Basic Income – not before.