Tag Archives: hunger

Peterloo, 200 years on

Two hundred years ago today, St Peter’s Fields in Manchester – now St Peter’s Square, was the site of a massive protest.  Some 60,000 people gathered in a peaceful pro-democracy, anti-poverty rally. Their circumstances were desperate and starvation was a real threat.

In response to this, local magistrates read the riot act and set armed forces on the assembly, killing some and injuring hundreds. The name ‘Peterloo’ was chosen to echo Waterloo – then a fairy recent battle. For more of the history visit http://www.peterloomassacre.org/history.html

One of the things we’ve been told in the run up to the UK ‘government’ being set on no deal brexit, is to expect civil unrest. This is likely to be the consequence of hunger, as we have nothing in place to enable us to deal with creating hard borders. Food, medicine and toilet paper from abroad won’t be so available, and the consequences will be ugly for many people. Push so many people to the edge and trouble is likely.

And what does our inglorious leadership propose to do for the hungry masses when the time comes? Send in the army to put down any misbehaviour.

We were one of the richer countries in the world when desperate, hungry people gathered in Manchester 200 years ago. Much of what was creating the hunger then was that our laws made bread prices too high for the poor to afford. Those laws served the rich landowners growing grain. We remain one of the richer countries in the world, and we remain a place where ordinary people go hungry. Which to me means that how we measure ‘wealth’ is clearly wrong. I want a definition of wealth that has more to do with everyone’s wellbeing and less to do with the riches of the few.

A nation that turns its army on its own people is a nation that has failed. A nation that lets its people go hungry is a nation that has failed. The right are keen to talk about patriotism, but anyone who is happy to see their neighbours suffer, go hungry, die for lack of medicine, and the like, for the sake of a political idea, has no love for their country. A country is not some abstract idea, it is a group of living people. When you don’t see those living people as inherently worth taking care of, there is no national identity. There is no community or collective co-operation at a national level. How anyone can identify as a proud nationalist, and not connect that pride to the wellbeing of all is a mystery to me.

The humbug post

It is traditional at this time of year for me to grumble publically about other people’s festivities and how much I detest them. This year is, in a number of ways, being worse. The rise of foodbanks in the UK, my awareness that many people will be hungry over the festive period, and 80,000 children homeless, makes the traditional gluttony even more abhorrent than usual. While MPs claim expenses for heating their second homes, many elderly people have to choose between heating and eating.

I have a lot of politically engaged people around the world in my social networks. I’m signed up to a lot of petition sites. As a consequence on a daily basis I’m hearing about international acts of eco-vandalism and eco-suicide. Unspeakable things undertaken in the name of profit. There are so many of them. Every now and then there’s a victory for sense and compassion, but the victories seem all too small in relation to what’s wrong out there.

It could be that things have always been this awful, and, not having the internet my whole life, I didn’t know. But foodbanks are a recent thing, and it used to be that we worried about homeless children in distant lands, not as a charity issue on our own doorsteps. There’s always been some degree of injustice for the poor, but the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest has never been bigger, and it keeps growing.

Quite honestly, this stuff scares me. It’s emotionally exhausting as well. Yesterday I had information coming in about how CO2 emissions from airports are calculated, and about the rise in foodbanks. We need to be talking about the transatlantic trade agreement. I started feeling like I could not cope and did not know what to say. I’m just a small voice, a little blogger writing for a few hundred people here and at ruscombe green. I send out press releases to local newspapers. In a good week maybe I get an idea in front of a few thousand people. It’s such a tiny contribution to be able to make. If I gave away everything I own, I could not begin to alleviate the short term misery in this country, much less anywhere else.

With all of that on my mind, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for festive shopping. I do at least have the scope to shop local this year. I’m buying things from independent Stroud shops and from the market to a significant degree. It’s a lot less grim than being exposed to the endless, useless, plastic mass produced soulless tat that dominates at this time of year.

What I want for me, more than anything else, is a few days away from it all, not breaking my heart over news items and causes I can do far too little about. What I need is some belief that it is worth my while to keep going. I could do with being able to stop without feeling guilty about it. But there is so much out there needs doing. Could we just have a couple of days while the wealthy politicians stuff their faces with food and sit in their large, well heated houses and do not inflict any new forms of suffering? A break would be nice. We’ve got plenty enough awfulness to be going along with. And if any of them dare to talk about Christian values during this season, as they brutalise the poor and attack the land, please, please would the Christian deity be so good as to smite them for taking the piss.

In the meantime, I’ve just been rendered a bit weepy by warmth and kind words from people on facebook. I suspect I’m burning out. I do not believe that people working themselves to mental and physical collapse is the way to go, and I know I should apply that to me, and mostly I don’t manage that.

A hungry world

I heard a story yesterday about a girl collapsing in school, because it had been so long since she’d last eaten. In some parts of the world, the curious bits would be that a poor child was in school in the first place, and a girl-child at that. Hunger and deprivation are normal for so many people. But this wasn’t a developing world story, it came from a few miles down the road, from the green and pleasant heart of England, where that sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen anymore.

In this country of wealth and plenty, no child should have to go hungry to the point of collapse. Our government should hang its collective heads in shame that they have allowed such a situation to exist. Food banks are on the increase, as are the numbers of people who desperately need access to them. Where people are already in debt, living hand to mouth, one wage packet to the next, the loss of work can plunge a household into total crisis at no notice. This is happening. Where benefits are cut, support with housing harder to come by, budgets that would not make ends meet now cannot be stretched. What do you give up? The mobile phone that enables you to be contacted if a job comes in? Heating? The cost of fuel has been on the rise for some time. Maybe you give up the car that you depended on for shopping and that actually made you more employable. We have a structure that pretty much demands you have certain things, and increasing numbers of people who cannot afford them.

And yet in some households, perfectly good food is thrown away all the time.

I stood in a queue today and listened to an obscenely spoilt brat howling with dismay that he was being made to stand up, and was not allowed to sit in the car. From the fuss he was making, you’d think someone had told him he wasn’t going to have anything to eat that week.

It’s the perspectives that really gets me, the comfortably off who denigrate the poor and assume that poverty is proof of not working hard enough, for one. The line between viable, and unviable is thin, and seldom visible. There but for the grace of the gods, goes any of us. One big car bill you can’t pay that leads to debt, and never being able to quite get ahead again. Or that classic of a sudden health disaster that takes job, income, dignity and hope in one fell swoop.

Any one of us could wake up tomorrow and find that some personal disaster, beyond our control, has thrown us into a state of destitution. And it happens every day, to a frighteningly large number of people.

We’re so quick to blame those less fortunate than ourselves, and so quick to assume that some inherent quality in us is keeping us in better fortune. Not luck. Not pure, blind, irrational chance. I think luck has everything to do with it. I’m lucky. I can afford to feed my child. Another woman in Gloucester, could not. If only we had a culture in which failure to look after the weakest was a source of shame, not pride. If only we could collectively stop looking for reasons to blame, and put that bit of effort into finding ways to help. If only we cared enough to notice.

I’m in a fairly affluent area, there are no hungry children on my doorstep, as far as I know. I like to think I’d have a clue if there were, and I know that if I knew, I could not stand by and do nothing.

French Revolution

Food prices in France are so high that protestors are taking direct action. (Radio 4 have been reporting on this a lot so no doubt www.bbc.co.uk has more info if you want to look it up). The protestors resent the profits made by supermarkets at the expense of both their employees and those buying from them. I heard over the weekend that basics – meat and pasta were the cited examples – are now prohibitively expensive. Protestors are going into supermarkets and giving away food to people. They have not been arrested at time of writing, because of a law dating back to Napoleon that entitles shoppers to try before they buy.

All of our food production depends on oil. Agriculture involves tractors. Everything in the supermarkets is moved around by lorry at the very least. Fuel prices impact on food prices, directly. Taxes on fuel increase food prices. In the UK, value added tax adds to the burden of cost. While I am no fan of anything that encourages profligate use of fossil fuels, the increasing difficulty for poor people to eat well, is alarming. In Western cities there are food banks for those who cannot afford to buy food, and hunger is a genuine issue. This is both shocking and inexcusable, especially when you consider how much food our societies routinely throw away needlessly.

In Somalia, there is famine. I gather that the western enthusiasm for quinoa as a foodstuff means that in its south American countries of origin, the price of this essential foodstuff has been raised such that poor people can no longer afford it.

A big part of the problem is that food production is an industry. We leave it to ‘market forces’ to sort everything out, held internationally by the insane belief that markets are somehow a fair and reasonable way of solving everything. It all comes down to supply and demand, right? Except that it doesn’t. Markets are all about short term profit. They aren’t a system that’s going to plan for long term problem solving, or dealing with the challenges of climate change. Currently food supply is part of the problem, not the solution. Market forces will not show compassion to the starving, or help people in France who can no longer afford pasta.

Most of our food, in Europe, is not produced locally. Where we source from developing countries, we still pay them far too little, for all that the fair trade movement has tried to improve this. Supermarkets squeeze domestic producers so that they are barely viable. Farming in the UK is not in a good way. The profits go to the companies and their shareholders, and the big supermarkets make a lot of money. They do it on everyone else’s backs. We’ve been seduced by their apparent convenience, we’ve forsaken the small, local shops and the local producers, stripping essential services out of rural communities along the way. We just get in our cars and drive to the supermarket. Lo and behold, they now have a strangle hold on the food market, we depend on them, the alternatives have all but vanished in many places, we have to drive to them and the prices of food have risen dramatically in the last few years.

This is a situation that we, and our immediate ancestors, have all helped to create, and if we want to change it, we are going to have to do that collectively as well. If the price on fuel came down, food prices might go down too. Might. Do we think the supermarkets will keep a little extra for themselves? I think we can assume they would, in such circumstances. Perhaps the French protestors have the right answer. I’ve no idea what would happen to anyone trying to do that in the UK.

If you want to protest, if you want to do your revolutionary bit, buy something, anything, from somewhere other than a supermarket. Often there are frighteningly few options, but if you can get a thing, anything, straight from the producer, do it.