Various food hampers set up around town to accept donations for “the less fortunate” this Christmas don’t post signs advising, “No alcohol,” so this year I’m giving bottles of wine.
I’m fed up with the food bank ethos. Unfortunately, the widespread disgust over the need for food banks when they emerged a generation ago has disappeared, and they are now accepted as a normal part of modern life.
Going to a seasonal event? Please bring a non-perishable item for the food bank.
Food banks may indeed be a necessary evil, but there is something extremely unsettling about how quickly and easily they became permanently entrenched.
At the Santa Claus parade, you put coins into buckets carried along the route by volunteers, and donate a few food items. But the pickup trucks loaded with bags of Kraft Dinner, cans of waterlogged peas, boxes of Shake ’n’ Bake, etc., are rolling proof that the obesity epidemic among the financially underprivileged continues at full speed.
Concern for “the less fortunate” — a horrible euphemism habitually overused this time of year — apparently doesn’t extend to include corporate and political policies that inevitably add to the ranks of said unfortunates. (See: minimum wage, decades-long argument about. See also: “outsourced,” jobs that could be performed in Canada, but have been moved to Asia.)
But let’s not put a damper on the hamper business.
After all, the fellow whose birthday we celebrate this month said the poor would always be with us. Mind you, he didn’t add, “And it’s their own fault” — a widely held belief.
Attitudes about charity seem to have reverted to the old notion of noblesse oblige, which held that the privileged had a responsibility to be good and to do good deeds. For instance, they had to take care of their peasants, as well as their animals. Which is fine as far as that goes, except it also entailed equating peasants with animals.
Today’s attitudes toward the poor have advanced somewhat. But too often, people facing financial hardship are judged harshly — surely their situation is due to their own laziness, their penchant for taking drugs or drinking too much, their lack of personal responsibility.
Enjoyed by all
Small things might change if more people acknowledged that those living in poverty have work ethics and goals, even desires, just like those living in middle-class suburbs. Such acknowledgement might entail a welcome drop in the number of boxes of KD donated during the Santa Claus parade.
Ideally, we’d all give cash, and the people who run food banks could use it to purchase decent, fresh food for people in need. More than half a century ago, George Orwell wrote that canned vegetables are an abomination of nature and nutrition. He probably would have been disgusted about their collection for food banks.
There are, of course, rare heroes who personally deliver a fresh turkey or two, either to a food bank or to a community or church group compiling Christmas hampers for families in need.
It is with those heroes in mind that I’m donating wine. A festive meal is even better with a glass of half-decent wine, to which millions of middle-class Canadian adults can attest. There’s no reason why a food-hamper turkey shouldn’t come with a bottle. Those of higher financial means might consider being even more generous, and donating, say, brandy or fine Scotch.
Cynics might wail that such an approach merely encourages the alcohol abuse they self-righteously assume is rampant among the less fortunate. On the contrary — it shows that the finer things in life need not be monopolized by the well off, and it passes along the spirit of Christmas.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at
The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org