By Cllr Ryan Hack
On Monday 11th July, Brent Council passed a Labour Group motion declaring this part of North WestLondon a Right to Food borough with its own food justice strategy.
Inspired by Ian Byrne’s national #Right to Food campaign, I joined a group of local activists last July to mobilise politically against the spiraling food poverty crisis in Brent.
Despite the delays caused by pandemic restrictions, we managed to put together a representative steering group to organise the first Brent Food Summit in March this year at the Newman Catholic College in Harlesden with participation from the general public and various food-related organisations. It was agreed there that fighting food inequalities requires the co-design with local stakeholders of a Brent Right to Food Strategy comparable to those in Islington, Lambeth or Haringey.
Having access to safe, nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate food for all is a universal human right enshrined in public international law and national legislation across the world, including the Scottish Good Food Nation Bill.
The Right to Food is about statutory entitlements and solidarity, not charitable handouts. These can be measured through agreed quantitative indicators. It is also connected to civic education – from early-years to lifelong learning – and empowering people as agents of their own food security and sovereignty.
At the May local elections, I stood for Labour on a right to food pledge and now proudly represent the ward of Brondesbury Park with Cllr Erica Gbajumo, which – like many other parts of the borough – has extreme pockets of food-related poverty. Fortunately, there are many existing grassroots initiatives offering emergency food aid which we can support and build on.
For example, I visited London Community Kitchen’s food aid operation on Ealing Road in Alperton ward this month and saw first-hand how over 1,000 people came to seek food aid in a single day because of poor working conditions, housing inequality and skyrocketing utility bills, transport, and childcare costs.
This is all depriving working class families of their basic necessities in life. It has resulted in the pervasive and systematic lack of access to fresh, healthy and affordable food across the different parts of the borough.
Brent’s Surplus Market in Alperton provides food aid on a non-referral model every Saturday and shows the importance of strengthening people’s access to welfare assistance and food aid by removing the barriers such as referral systems which normalise food banks and charity as the routine form of addressing food insecurity. Instead, this model promotes zero-waste which is integral to tackling food poverty.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and racially minoritised communities in Brent. It has exacerbated the injustice of food poverty for thousands of residents throughout who are dependent on food banks or other hand-outs – including some who work in the food sector itself as Deliveroo riders, supermarket employees or behind bar counters.
According to Cllr Erica Gbajumo, who has co-sponsored the Council motion, the pandemic, “has exposed how food poverty in Brent as part of broader crisis relating to housing inequality, precarious working conditions for people and a broken welfare system.”
The first step in this long process of eradicating food poverty in North West London has begun. Throughout this summer, Brent Council will partner with London’s Community Kitchen to create and deliver over 50,000 meals for some of North-West London’s most vulnerable communities.
By declaring Brent a Right to Food Borough, the Labour Party has pledged to work toward a Brent without food banks, and to call for the Right to Food to be enshrined into national law.
Food poverty is not a natural condition but a consequence of social inequalities and injustices, including those experienced by food workers themselves. Hunger is a result of political choices made by the Government, and Brent will now join dozens of other local and metropolitan authorities in working towards a food justice strategy that ensures everyone has access to healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food through the development of community kitchens, social supermarkets and community gardens for local residents.
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