"The federal and provincial governments need to do more to address the reasons why people have to go to food banks." That's the view of Marilyn Hermann, Executive Director of Surrey Food Bank. And that quote comes from a B.C. Almanac broadcast that aired on CBC Radio on December 3, 2015.
In the broadcast Peter Sinclair, Executive Director of Nanaimo Loaves & Fishes Community Food Bank, asserts, "I think first and foremost, support from the government for people living in poverty needs to be increased. Whether it be for welfare or disability. That ... it is unacceptably low and that certainly needs to change. We also need to recognize that it is more than just government effort that's required here. It needs to be a whole community effort."
The dialogue in some segments of the food bank business is obviously changing.
Graham Riches, emeritus professor of social work at the University of British Columbia, is the third guest on the show. He says there needs to be a full public debate about the role of food banks and the concept of "using surplus food and wasted food to actually feed hungry people." That debate, that discussion, he says, needs to be "out in the public".
Riches questions why the CBC, a public institution, is supporting food bank drives when the real debate should be about the right to food. His question is not rhetorical, but he gets no good answer. Actually, he gets no answer at all.
By way of response, host Gloria Macarenko poses her own question. She asks professor Riches if people should not donate at all or, if they do donate, should they follow through with a note to a government official saying, "Hey, we're doing your job for you here and it's time that you stepped up"?
The latter action, replies Riches, is "absolutely what people should be doing ... and let's hope that they do because I think that would be a change in terms of public attitude and a very significant one." He notes there is a "moral imperative" to donate, but cautions that "at the same time it masks the underlying problems. And the underlying problems are really that government is accountable. Government is, in international law, the primary duty bearer. It actually has the responsibility. And none of our governments, over time, have actually addressed that and picked it up."
When Ms Hermann, from Surrey Food Bank, wants to know "whose responsibility is it to make this happen?", Riches' answer is simple enough: "I think it is your responsibility, but your organization is also run by "Corporate Canada". I mean the big supermarkets and corporate retail giants actually support you - with the Conference Board of Canada. Now, why aren't they arguing for the kinds of things, in public, that we need?"
How's your memory? Did you hear a debate on "using surplus food and wasted food to actually feed hungry people" while you were tuned in to one of CBC's food bank drives? It doesn't seem likely. The following links show the result when the powerful forces referred to by Riches effect control over the debate:
St. John's - Turkey Drive
Gander - Turkey Drive
Corner Brook - Turkey Drive
Happy Valley-Goose Bay - Turkey Drive
Sydney - Light up a Life
Charlottetown - Turkey Drive
Halifax - Feed Nova Scotia Day
Saint John - Harbour Lights
Fredericton - Feed a Family
Quebec City - Community Christmas Hamper Campaign
Montreal - Christmas Sing-In Charity Drive
Ottawa - Project Give
Toronto - Sounds of the Season
Hamilton - Sounds of the Season
Sudbury - Sounds of the Season
Kitchener - Sounds of The Season
Windsor - Sounds of the Season
Thunder Bay - Sounds of the Season
Winnipeg - Harvesting Hope Campaign
Regina - Food Bank Day
Saskatoon - Food Bank Day
Edmonton - Turkey Drive for Food Bank
Calgary - Suncor Food Bank Drive
Kelowna - Food Bank Day
Kamloops - Food Bank Day
Prince George - Food Bank Day
Vancouver - Food Bank Day
Victoria - Food Bank Day
Prince Rupert - Food Bank Day