Right To Food London: World Hunger Day

Ahead of World Hunger Day on May 28th, Sharon Noonan-Gunning calls for London to become a ‘Right To Food’ city.

The UK’s broken food system and lack of a national food security plan were exposed by the COVID pandemic. Millions of people were thrown into food insecurity. Despite the solidarity provided by our communities to feed and care for each other, we all have horror stories of hunger, malnutrition and support systems, including the provision of food, crashing. We do not know how many unnecessary deaths were caused by lack of food and social support.

Solidarity was built through the commitment of communities to feed ALL in need. In my own area of London SE16, tenants’ leaders raised money and queued daily at 5.30am at supermarkets to buy food for vulnerable people who were not on the official lists or for whom the food parcels were culturally or nutritionally inappropriate.  We do not know how many lives were saved by this collective care. 

These grassroots’ experiences fuel support for Ian Byrne’s Right To Food Campaign which demands the RTF be enshrined in UK law. This requires living incomes based on real needs, including food costs, universal free school meals and a network of community kitchens or restaurants – allowing our communities to use our school kitchens.

RTF London adapts these demands calling for RTF Boroughs and London to become a RTF City. Adopted now by five boroughs, we call for grassroots RTF summits to decide what this means in practice.  RTF is essential in the fight against the cost-of-living crisis and to stop the deepening of food and health inequalities.

Food banks and other charities are institutionalised. They are integrated with the government response to stop destitution.  Tackling food insecurity is part of public health nutrition (PHN) and helps prevent ill health. Yet PHN has been privatised and charitised. Its workforce rests on a growing ‘food voluntariat’.  For example, Trussell Trust alone uses 28,000 volunteer food workers.

Fighting for food and nutrition security as a right must be adopted by the labour movement. It must take a lead in feeding ALL in need if we are to end reliance on food banks which symbolise the breakup of the welfare state. We must demand an end to means testing through the food bank referral system and the humiliation this brings.  The collective care of the labour movement and working class to stop hunger has a strong history: the pioneers of the UK Cooperatives, the miners’ wives support groups and internationally, The Black Panthers.

Work by faith groups and food bank volunteers is sincerely respected, but food insecurity must be politicised.  This is a class issue: #HungerIsAPoliticalChoice. Ending food and nutrition insecurity requires building a grassroots movement for Right To Food that includes employment rights.  So, the labour movement needs to take responsibility for tackling food insecurity: take it away from charities and corporates and place it back with the state. In the meantime, we must organise in communities to feed ALL in need.

Shifting responsibility back to the state requires building a grassroots RTF movement. Our work in London, includes organising around World Hunger Day on 28th May. World Hunger Day is organised by the Hunger Project which is a global corporate social responsibility exercise. South London community activists say “We sup with the devil but with a very long spoon”, in terms of unpalatable compromises made in the interests of communities, with corporate developers and others.  

Right To Food London decided to claim the day for the grassroots. Some supporters are focusing on human rights but for others it is about politicising our food movement in London.  A social media campaign is available based on downloaded posters to print and paste (from here).

Shining the light on World Hunger Day helps expose the hypocrisy of corporates. Global hunger stands at 811 million. The number of people in severe food insecurity has doubled with Covid from 135 to 276 million and now the World Food Programme estimates 48.9 million will be pushed into famine.  It is an unprecedented crisis that will spark upheavals as happened in 2011 across the Middle East. 

At same time the wealth of billionaires has ballooned during Covid. The food and beverage companies pepper the global billionaires list that now stands at 2,750. As international socialists we know this wealth must be redistributed.  We must remember the resistance – and victory – of the Indian farmers and land workers. Their year-long fight stopped global agribusiness taking their lands, work and lives:  a fight for survival that we will see repeated.

For us in London, a global city, our protest on World Hunger Day is for global and local reasons:

  • To draw attention to the global fight for the Right To Food, this includes
    • Breaking the power of global agribusiness
    • Food sovereignty, or food democracy, with local control of land and food growing
    • Decent working conditions for land, food and nutrition workers
  • To demand London Mayor and City Hall follow the example of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and others to declare London a ‘Right To Food City’
  • City Hall organises universal free school food across London for all primary and secondary children
    • City Hall organises to allow communities to use the school kitchens.
  • To demand that London MPs, follow the example of Apsana Begum MP and others to support the call for London to become a Right To Food City’

If in London please join us

World Hunger Day 28th May /1pm

Opposite gates to 10 Downing St SW1

Bring your banners!

Sharon Noonan-Gunning is a long-standing community activist, Labour and trade union member, and lecturer in public health nutrition. As a community food activist and dietitian with a PhD in Food Policy, she focuses on tackling malnutrition and hunger through campaigning for the Right to Food. She writes in a personal capacity.

Graphics by Charli  Thompson

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