Tag Archives: feed the kids

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┬áthe 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.

Kids going hungry at school – 22% of them

The Northland principals’ association president this week conducted a survey of students in the Northland region that are coming to school without lunch on average, and what he found is awful. On average, 22% of students arriving at school – 1092 of 7352 students covered by the survey so far – are coming to school without adequate food. At the extreme end, one school reported 83% – 90 of 108 students – are doing without. These numbers are unbelievably bad.

Our Prime Minister, of course, stands by his statement that the numbers are “relatively small”. Even in the face of evidence, he will not accept that there is a problem, what the principals’ association president calls a “crisis”.

Twenty-two percent. How is this even possible? Even if more schools report in and the percentage goes down due to better rates at those schools, the absolute numbers so far are terrible. More than a thousand kids going hungry – I’m running out of ways to say that it’s horrible.

Some kids are being fed and clothed by KidsCan (an amazing organisation that you should donate to if you can) and others are being fed by the schools. So most of these kids are not going hungry in the end. But schools should not be digging into their own budgets, teachers should not be digging into their own pockets, and we should not have to have a charity dedicated to this kind of poverty in a land of plenty! The government has the resources to feed those kids, and – as put by Jeff Bridges – “Poverty is a very complicated issue, but feeding a child isn’t”.

He’s right. The reasons behind why these kids are coming to school without food are complicated. Many families are so poor that there’s not enough food for lunch boxes – why? Unliveable benefits. Families bigger than what can be sustained on a single minimum wage, or even on two. Parents so busy that making lunch has slipped down a priority list. Parents that drink and smoke and gamble away the money. Parents that are just too lazy. Do I believe all of these scenarios? No, but they have all been proposed as possibilities.

Does it matter what the reasons are? Addressing many of these is difficult, and some require interventions that our society will not countenance, such as raising benefits to liveable levels or raising minimum wage to a living wage. People’s ideas about what the poor deserve run counter to the changes that would be needed in these cases. Effective addiction interventions are not always easily accessed, so society judges the addicts without offering a hand up. There are many (mostly conservative) values that would have to change to address the underlying issues that cause children to come to school without food.

Feeding the kids is easy. Food in schools programmes are not difficult to implement, and not terribly expensive. Estimates are around $10-14 million – which is around half the cost of a flag referendum, a cost that many aren’t seeing as particularly important.

Addressing poverty is hard. Feeding kids is easy – and we should. It is not these kids’ fault that their lunch boxes are empty (if they exist at all). Pontificating about parental responsibility and so on doesn’t fill empty bellies. We can fix the immediate problem, feed the kids that are struggling to learn on empty tummies, and then look at making sweeping changes to welfare, addiction, and parenting support. These kids are suffering while we argue about the rights and wrongs of their parents and the system, and it’s not ok.