One in four adults in Britain are struggling to access food because of COVID-19, according to a recent survey by the Healthy Living Lab at Northumbria University. As more people in the United Kingdom turn to emergency food relief, Nourish Scotland is working to ensure that emergency food volunteers do not alienate those in need.
“People experiencing food insecurity have made it clear that what they face is not only the lack of adequate food,” Diana Garduño Jiménez, Project Officer for Nourish Scotland’s Dignity in Practice Project, tells Food Tank. “Food insecurity often comes with feeling shame and disempowerment, experiencing social stigma, and being isolated.”
Cath Wallace, a member of the Scottish anti-poverty organization Poverty Truth Community, tells Food Tank that some emergency food banks have a “you take what you’re given” attitude towards those in need of support. But this perspective can disempower individuals in need, leaving them less likely to seek help. “It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are,” Wallace says, “volunteers should never erode somebody’s dignity.”
Following calls to reform British emergency food provisioning programs, the Scottish government established the Fair Food Transformation Fund in 2016. Supported by the Fund, Nourish Scotland spent a year learning from people who experience food insecurity about the stigma they feel in food banks.
In their report, Nourish Scotland describes the importance of upholding the dignity of food-insecure individuals. Dignity, they explain, rests on five principles. It entails feeling nourished and supported; a sense of control; able to take part in community life; involved in decision-making; valued and able to contribute.
As more people lean on emergency food provisioning, Nourish Scotland argues that the concept of dignity is more important than ever. Last month, the nonprofit shared advice during their Emergency Food Provision workshops. Each two-hour session brought together leaders and volunteers from UK organizations including the St Paul’s Youth Forum and the Salvation Army.
In the workshops, Irina Martin, Project Officer of the Dignity in Practice Project, guided participants through scenarios they may encounter in emergency food assistance. For each scenario, Martin encouraged them to assess whether the examples upheld or undermined dignity.
Martin gave volunteers practical suggestions for applying the principles of dignity during COVID-19. This may mean holding weekly dinners over Skype or increasing choice in emergency food boxes.
“Dignity is in the detail,” Garduño Jimenéz told workshop participants. “Think outside the box, how can seemingly small details like the way the space is arranged, the project is introduced, food is laid out…influence a person’s sense of dignity?”
Nourish Scotland’s partner organizations are already incorporating lessons from the workshop. The Poverty Truth Community, for example, moved social events for food-insecure community members online and equipped all members with laptops.
COVID-19 presents an opportunity to build a more just and dignified food system, activists argue. “We envision a future where…the government supports community food initiatives to function as places where people can go to meet each other, share skills and knowledge, and spend time together,” Garduño Jimeneéz explains.
Putting dignity at the heart of the post-COVID-19 food system is essential, Martin tells Food Tank. “When our dignity is undermined we never forget, and this can have repercussions for the rest of our lives.”
Photo courtesy of Unsplash, Joel Muñiz