The Sociology of Food Poverty

[In October 2020 I was diagnosed with Dyslexia hence any grammar misgivings or typos. The new WordPress layout is not dyslexia-friendly].

In 2013 I started this blog as I way of storing my ideas and receiving feedback on my Ph.D research and progress. Over the years the readership has changed and often I use my blog for teaching purposes.

Back in 2013 I wrote about Jamie Oliver and food poverty.

Over the subsequent years my teaching has often interrogated food insecurity and the sociology of this.

I grew up poor to parents on benefits, the youngest of 6 children. I never felt poor though as my experience was the ‘norm’ where I lived, and I was never hungry. At secondary school I attended a more ‘middle class’ school and queuing up for school lunch with your ‘token’ meant working class kids stood out.

My dad was ‘on the sick’ as result of industrial illness and injury. He turned to alcoholism through this. The bodies of the working class are collateral damage to the rich, they are tossed aside once they can no longer produce. It is one of the many reasons I never ask people what they work as, and I never judge myself or others in relation to their labour. I love my job but it is not my worth. There are former CEOs attending food banks.

I only understood ‘class’ as a concept when I entered a Russell Group University aged 18 and felt the visceral violence towards the working class from some other students. I dropped out and worked in the night time economy as I discuss extensively elsewhere.

‘Working class’ is such a contested concept, and many people do cosplay which sanitizes the trauma and brutality of poverty, the life-long chronic health implications and the premature deaths we experience. It is not a competition but poverty is not just about being poor. It is about being deprived of so much. It is about not having enough of anything.

When you have experienced poverty it never leaves you. The damp seeps into your bones. The injustice fuels you. It informs my faith. Children should not go hungry, nobody should go hungry.

Marcus Rashford has been campaigning for free school meals.

In the wake of this we have heard Conservative MPs talking about eugenics, and the usual ‘lazy scrounger discourse’ that poor people waste their money on their fags and booze.

Two Tory MPs by the names of Ben Bradley and Mark Jenkinson tweeted about some of their constituents trading food parcels for drugs.

Such tired and unimaginative tropes feed into socio-historical understandings of the poor as undeserving, lazy, feckless. ‘Let’s stick them in a workhouse’.

Many commentators have pitched in on twitter to explain how you can make a ‘nutritious’ meal for 83p. The poor just don’t know how to cook or how to prioritise apparently.

Let’s be very clear, food insecurity and poverty are about a lack of all resources. There are many families who are homeless and living in hotels or hostels. There are many people renting rooms with one shared kitchen where they are lucky to have one shelf to store their goods, where they have to rota the use of the cooking facilities around their housemates’ shift patterns.

Many families do not have a cooker. If it breaks, they cannot afford to replace it. Many rely on a kettle, a microwave or a slow cooker.

Many don’t even have access to the above appliances We know that Victorian malnutrition diseases such as rickets have been identified by GPs. We also know the lifelong effects of a poor diet in childhood.

The rich will often instruct to poor to grow vegetables in window boxes of high rise flats, of walking 10 miles to the nearest farmers’ market to haggle for fresh goods, or keeping hens for their eggs. All of this is ludicrous for the single parent caring for a disabled child with 24/7 intensive needs, the worker waiting to hear what hours he is getting that week after being bussed in to the factory, and the families working multiple jobs to try and make ends meet.

Many of these MPs would be happy for the working class to eat gruel. They would also want those eating gruel to be grateful.

It is great having your scrambled egg on toast and your kale juice (from your own hens and your veggie patch naturally) when you live in a warm home with enough resources and you do not have the constant crushing pressure of poverty slamming you down. When you are poor you grab what you can, when you can. You use the shop you can walk to which is often higher in price and lower in choice. You may be able to take the bus, you may or may not be able to carry heavy items.

Internet shopping relies on having the internet and being digitally literate, having a device to connect to the internet, having a bank account, having money in that bank account, and using a shop that provides online delivery. For many people going to the food shop is their only form of social interaction

As a Criminologist I can tell you that if you want to try and decrease crime, you need to address the growing inequalities in society. You cannot examine crime as a separate phenomena from socio-economic deprivation. If Tory MPs have a genuine concern about people trading drugs for dried pasta, or cans of beans for visits to brothels, then I suggest they address their drugs policy and decriminalize sex work so that we can focus resources on helping people and not criminalizing poverty.

The public need to start broadening their understanding of ‘crime’ to understand the deliberate state violence inflicted against the working class. To leave children hungry when we are subsidising MPs’ food is a unforgivable.

I recommend following the work of The Trussell Trust.

I also recommend following The Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

As always I am keen to connect. I am @princessjack on twitter.

Gemma x