If you really gave a shit about kids . . .

“If you really gave a s… about kids and public health, you’d feed them right at school, full-stop, and you’d teach them about food at school, full-stop.” – Jamie Oliver

The man has a point, you know. Kids shouldn’t be a political football – they should be a priority.

As of 2014, 260,000 kids live in poverty in New Zealand. 180,000 regularly go without essentials like food, appropriate clothing, or heat. those numbers are terrible in a nation with so much wealth. We simply have to do better.

Jamie Oliver’s solution is the obvious one. Feed the kids, because leaving a child hungry is inhumane, and teach them about food, how to grow and cook it, so that they’re set up for a better future.

I cannot understand people who would argue over where the responsibility lies for hungry children, while those children stay hungry. Someone who says that it’s their parent’s fault and leaves them hungry – for what reason? To teach the parents responsibility? It doesn’t work like that! – just does not understand the misery of going to school hungry, the lack of ability to think on an empty stomach, the temptation to steal lunches from other kids or teachers just to have something in your belly. Whatever the reason, the kids don’t deserve to be hungry, and if parents can’t or won’t pack a lunch, someone needs to step in. Punishing a kid because their parent is poor or lazy is cruel.

I don’t have much time for libertarian types who say that we need to ’empower communities’ and help them be more self-sufficient. For one, a community may well be too poor to support the needs of the thousands of kids that go hungry in this country. For another, community responses are very variable that in some communities there will be wonderful programmes and in others almost nothing, depending on the skill level and enthusiasm and connections of the organisers – I think that a centralised response would be more even-handed and thorough.

So feeding the kids. It’s an idea I believe in, and I am deeply disappointed in our government for rejecting the legislation that could have made this possible. What kind of people are they, that they are ok with thousands of children starving? I don’t know where to go from here, but I think we need a new government and a new go at doing this for our kids.

The other part of Jamie’s plan, to teach kids about food, is an interesting one. Basic food skills are so important, and every child should be provided with them. Can opening, food reheating, knife skills, a few solid recipes to be able to fall back on, they’re essentials. I do believe that every child should be taught this stuff. But how useful are these skills when the cupboards are bare? We need to be addressing poverty at home, as well as feeding the kids at school. Making a dinner of toast and beans needs to be a thing that kids can achieve – both the skills to make it and the materials to work from.

My solutions to food poverty at home are the usual ‘pay people more’ type things. Not very creative, but creative and targeted solutions aren’t my thing. They’re hoops to jump through, condescending attitudes to deal with. Giving people enough money to live on is simpler and affords the poor some dignity which is seriously lacking in our attitudes at the moment.

I can’t pretend to be an expert in this. Maybe my ideas are very wrong, and someone can explain to me why targeted funding is a better idea. But there’s not a person on earth that will convince me that we don’t need to put a plan in place to feed kids that don’t get three good meals a day.

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