If there’s one measure of social injustice in Ireland that, for a decade, has remained stubbornly resistant to change, it’s the now annual count of families judged to be living in food poverty, which is defined as the inability to afford or have access to an adequate and nutritious diet.
In some years, it’s 11%, in others it falls unspectacularly to 10%. “It would be nice”, an American writer has noted, “if the poor were to get even half of the money that is spent in studying them.”
There is now no shortage of information about the wretched lives of those who literally do not know where their next meal is coming from, or who have to make a choice when spending cash. Will it be on rent, heating, or the least expensive and unhealthy food available?
Our State, along with a great many others, has yet to come up with the fix that will ensure that, whatever other worries low- and no-income families have, such as unemployment, housing, and stress, the inability to put an adequate breakfast, lunch, or dinner on the table isn’t one of them.
Until it does, society looks to the enduring charitable instincts of individual and corporate donors to fill as many stomachs as they can. Christmas — with the noise about traditional meals and all those deliciously fattening trimmings — is the time of the year when food poverty is thrown into sharp and often embarrassing relief.
But penury is with us year-round, as today’s report from Tesco Ireland and FoodCloud — a social enterprise that connects food businesses to charities in Cork, Galway, and Dublin – reminds us.
Tesco, in partnership with FoodCloud, has, since 2014, distributed 10m meals through its surplus food donations programme. That works out at approximately 45,000 meals each week.
These meals have gone to more than 350 volunteer community groups across the country, including family resource centres, soup kitchens, youth services, homeless organisations, meals on wheels, and more.
Their Christmas drive will see unsold food being distributed tomorrow from Tesco’s 151 stores nationwide. Excellent programmes such as these bring with them a knock-on benefit for the environment.
Those 10m donated meals have saved 4,236 tonnes of edible food, worth over €12.7m, from being chucked in the bin. And in giving it away instead of throwing it away, Tesco has saved over 13.514mkgs of carbon in energy use.
Tesco’s international management also merits congratulations for responding without delay to reports that slave labour in the form of foreign prisoners was being used at the Chinese factory that makes its charity Christmas cards, one of them having reached London with a message asking the recipient to alert human rights organisations.
Production at the factory, which passed a recent audit, has now been stopped, but there is flashing warning light here for companies that outsource manufacturing to the world’s second-largest economy.
Slave, or at the very least coerced, labour is an endemic practice its government either condones or chooses to ignore. When the product label says ‘Made in China’, the response of buyers here ought to be: “Yes, but by whom?”