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KEZIA DUGDALE: How can people go hungry in a country like Scotland?

Beans on toast - a luxury for some families in food poverty. Photo: Shutterstock.
Beans on toast - a luxury for some families in food poverty. Photo: Shutterstock.

I need to lose weight. For want of a better word, I’ve always been sturdy.

It’s a phrase that elderly friends and relatives would use around me when I was a wee kid.

Alongside “she’s a good eater, isn’t she” and “she’d be fine in a hard winter.” Gentle phrases with a cutting, yet somehow loving edge.

I’ve gone through phases of my life where I’ve been into proper regular exercise and was probably at my fittest when I was Labour leader.

Because going to the gym for an hour, three times a week, was the only time I ever had when nobody wanted me to do something.

I wonder how many other people go to the gym just to hide?

The idea of gym classes is a complete anathema to me. There are medical procedures I’d opt to undergo before I went to spin class.

I’m delighted if it works for you, but it’s never going to work for me.

I’m hangry, but it’s the people in food poverty I feel sorry for

Which is maybe why I put on a solid stone during the pandemic, despite walking the dog for an hour every day.

The wine consumption definitely went up a little, and with it the salty snack collection. But I think most of the gain just came from eating really well.

When we couldn’t do much else, I cooked and then I kept on cooking when we could.

So I’ve finally succumbed to a fad diet. I’ve gone Keto.

That’s a diet that cuts out almost all carbohydrates and draws all its energy from fats and protein.

Goodbye pasta, bread, rice and tatties, I’m 90% nuts now.

The science of eating like this is that it puts your body into ketosis. So it burns fat for energy and you therefore lose weight.

It’s working, I’ve lost several pounds. I’m also on the cusp of losing several friends because the hanger is real.

And because I have such a lifelong interest in food and I’m now studying the nutritional composition of every gram that goes into my gob, I’ve been thinking a lot about food poverty.

And how many people will go hungry tonight, not to lose weight but so their kids can eat.

Why isn’t food an automatic right?

I think about the young people I know sleeping in hostels tonight who have been given a box of food for three days to keep them going that only needs a kettle to cook it.

What’s delicious and can be cooked with only a kettle? Turns out not much if you’re living in food poverty. Photo: Shutterstock.

I know what’s in that box. And how far removed it feels from food that’s made with love, that nourishes and heals.

I understand how much easier and cheaper it is to access food that is high in sugar and fat and the health consequences that flow from years of that being all you can afford.

And I know plenty people who’ll argue that food is just fuel, that it doesn’t matter what’s in that box, as long as people don’t go hungry.

That’s fine as far as it goes. But food is life.

It’s what roots us to the land. It’s the foundation of family and wellbeing.

Why would we not want everyone to have the best possible access to the cheapest and highest quality food we can?

Scotland is home to some of the richest agricultural land in the world. Photo: Shutterstock.

Why isn’t it an automatic right? Particularly for children, where the difference it can make is obvious.

Without it life chances start to drift and the gap between children grows with every aching hunger pang.

Fresh food scheme will lift some families out of poverty

That’s why it’s good news that the Scottish Government has expanded the eligibility for the Best Start Foods scheme, bringing another 30,000 families into the entitlement.

This is a scheme which helps pregnant women and parents of children up to the age of three access fresh fruit, veg and milk with a pre-paid card scheme.

If you’re pregnant, you’ll get £4.50 a week until your child is born.

Once your child is born, you’ll get £9 a week until they reach the age of one.

After this you’ll get £4.50 a week until they reach the age of three.

And the card can be used anywhere there’s a Mastercard sign.

At the moment, it’s only available to people on certain benefits.

The categories will be much broader from next year and you can find out if you or your family member is eligible now by googling Best Start Foods scheme.

Fresh food should be within everyone’s reach

It’s a worthy and important contribution. But it’s a very far cry from the food revolution the country needs.

In a land with some of the best natural resources and produce in the world, it is nothing short of a travesty that so little of it is within reach of the country’s own people.

For that we are all responsible.

We should collectively grab our knives and forks and demand better and more from the people who lead us.

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