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EDITORIAL: Food for thought

There was heavy fire, smoke and water damage to the Community Food Sharing Association (CFSA) warehouse location on Topsail Road in Mount Pearl Wednesday morning. Staff and volunteers inside were able to get out safely.
There was heavy fire, smoke and water damage to the Community Food Sharing Association (CFSA) warehouse location on Topsail Road in Mount Pearl Wednesday morning. Staff and volunteers inside were able to get out safely. — Telegram file photo

It’s an interesting opportunity to consider how we look at food banks.

But a horrible reason to have to look there.

Right now, residents of the province are trying to turn a very bad thing into a good thing. After a fire destroyed food stocks at the Community Food Sharing Association (CFSA), there’s been an almost-instantaneous effort to help.

Food drives are happening, cash donations are being pledged, shoulders are being put to the wheel.

And that is fantastic.

This bad chapter may indeed end up having a happy ending.

But since that’s likely the case, maybe we should look at the whole food bank book — in other words, the roles that food banks have evolved into.

Food banks are not the best way to create food security; there are no guarantees that food banks will have enough food or even the right kind of food when that food is needed.

Amy Ralph, who helps run Botwood’s food bank, spoke to the CBC about how food banks outside the overpass depend on the CFSA to provide food when they run short.

As the CBC reported, “In Botwood, Ralph has had to call on the Community Food Sharing Association sparingly. As of late, the townspeople have been doing a good job of supplying food through donations.”

(This is not a criticism of the CBC, by the way; in its own way, the story accurately represents where food banks have come to fit in our society.)

But think about the implication of those sentences: that it’s the job of townspeople to donate food if others in the community need it.

That’s an interesting way to allow governments to shed their responsibility for the neediest among us.

Food banks are not the best way to create food security; there are no guarantees that food banks will have enough food or even the right kind of food when that food is needed.

What they do is let governments off the hook. With a partial safety net in place, governments don’t have to worry about food security for the employed or unemployed, or consider whether or not their citizens are being paid a working wage.

But why should the food needs for a group of people in our society depend on the goodwill of others — goodwill that may or may not exist at any given time?

The basic care of citizens in our society should not devolve to depending full-time on charity.

It’s a little bit like how we view benevolent billionaires and millionaires: we laud them for “giving back” to society, without considering that perhaps they should pay a larger share in the first place.

Food banks are both a wonder of generosity and a failure of government policy. What was meant to be a stopgap has become a full-time solution.

People: obviously, keeping donating.

The Community Food Sharing Association definitely needs your help.

But politicians and government officials? Start thinking hard about finding a better way.

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