Since lockdown I have done my big shop almost exclusively at Morrisons. It’s handy as it’s local and I can get nearly everything that we need. On the way out, just after the tills there are a couple of cages set aside for the Wansbeck food bank.
Food banks have always troubled me. In many ways they are an expression of the goodness in society. They show that people are willing, in some small way, to help those less fortunate than themselves. They are also an expression of failure in society in that they highlight that there are people, in one of the world’s richest countries, that can’t afford to feed their families.
I understand that in any society there will always be poor and that there will always be families who struggle to eat but it is a growing problem, with food banks in nearly every town. The problem seems to be out of control and needs to be addressed. Food banks can only ever be a short term sticking plaster.
I also have concerns that food banks allow us to feel good about ourselves. By buying some goods and donating them we get that warm smug feeling that we are doing good. Not only are we giving to the less fortunate but we are able to show the poor the kinds of things that they should be eating. Not only have we removed a family’s ability to feed itself but we have removed its ability to choose what to eat.
In the last few weeks I have noticed that Morrissons has introduced a new service aimed to help. As you walk into the shop, there is a trolley filled with small paper bags of food, ready made parcels that you can buy and donate to the food bank. Now, not only do you not have to worry about what to buy the poor, you don’t even need to pick it off the shelf. The supermarket has transactionalized giving. They have redefined charity for the age of instant gratification and in doing so they have removed all conscious thought from the process.
Now, amongst the milk, bread and soap powder, you can add a food bag to your shopping list.
Whilst I commend Morrisons support for food banks I can’t help feeling they have commodified giving.