Seven Days Living from a Foodbank

The food parcel I had to last me seven days
I often do crazy things for features at work, like deciding to visit Auschwitz in a day with a group of local school children. That was a long and emotionally and physically exhausting day!

After seeing a local woman take on a month of living from a food bank to raise money for the Trussell Trust charity, I wondered whether it might be worth spending seven days living from a food bank and documenting it for a feature in the newspaper.

I collected an emergency food parcel from local food bank, Mission Trinity (with a £20 donation to cover costs), to see how it felt to live on generosity of others - and not be able to choose any of your own food - for a week.

This was going to be a real challenge for me - as I'm sure you all know I would describe myself as a generally hungry person who loves food.

I HATE tinned peaches
I love home cooking and will happily come home from work and make lasagna, risotto, or a moussaka, and I enjoy lots of fresh foods, lots of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, so relying on tinned goods was always going to be difficult. I just didn’t realise how difficult…

When I arrived at the food bank, David Sample, who runs the food bank, took me through the normal procedure for people using the service.

I filled in a form, then was offered some goods in a separate room that had been donated by local supermarkets.

I picked up a few bits and bobs, then was given two large bags of food which would hopefully keep me going seven days.

David told me he’d had 12 people in already that morning, some with dependents, so he’d probably helped around 24 people with food parcels. Another four people came in as I was leaving, who probably had dependents as well. It was half term too, so I imagine some parents might have been struggling with providing extra food for their children that is normally provided through school breakfast clubs or free school lunches.

The food bank is definitely a service that is well used in Goole.

Tuna pasta - could have been worse

When I went through the bags, I found mainly tins of soups and beans and pasta sauces, with a couple of tins of fish and fruit.

I rationed my meals and snacks using lists, and figured everything could stretch seven days, but I might still get a bit hungry. If I got hungry I’d have to snack on the many tins of beans I’d been given, rather than fruit, crisps or chocolate snacks I was used to.

The week started off ok, I wasn’t too hungry. I made enough tuna pasta for two days, and took rich tea biscuits to the cinema. Normally I would have had ice cream or pick and mix and a drink!

Tupperware became my friend this week - dividing one tin of peaches into portions so I could have a bit of fruit each day. They weren’t very nice though...

On Friday, it was strange going home and eating tinned mince with pasta (again). Normally on a Friday night I would have a nice meal planned with wine and a dessert. It didn’t really feel like the weekend!

Watching the football (definitely not on a dodgy stream...) with a side of pineapple and tap water

The weekend itself was a challenge. I didn’t realise it until now, but normally my weekends almost revolve around food. Me and Phil will go for walks specifically where there is somewhere good to eat, or go shopping and enjoy a nice lunch or cake and coffee. Even if we don’t head out to eat on an evening, normally I make elaborate meals or bake.

I started Saturday morning with crippling IBS stomach pains, the stodgy, processed carb-laden food so far was really not agreeing with me.

I watched the six nations rugby with a glass of water and some rich tea biscuits, rather than crisps and cider. I decided not to bother making any plans for the weekend, since I couldn’t eat or drink outside the house! I considered going to my local to watch the football on Sunday, but I knew I couldn’t sit there with a tap water - nor would enjoy seeing everyone else tuck into their burgers, hotdogs or ribs!

Soup, rich tea biscuits and dry toast... yummy...

Instead I cleaned my house from top to bottom and even sorted out the garden to take my mind off things! Dry toast and soup was starting to get the better of me.

Monday rolled around, and while Saturday and Sunday were dull, Monday was a nightmare. I was reporting from Hull Crown Court, but I was late getting up and the traffic into Hull was bad. I had packed up some Shreddies in a freezer bag for an on-the-go breakfast - but accidentally left them in my car! I also forgot my bottle of tap water.

My defendant’s case didn’t get called on until the afternoon, meaning I only had cranberries and crackers to eat all day. I had to sneak some water from a jug on the barristers’ bench in a courtroom so I didn’t get completely dehydrated... hoping the Court Clerk wouldn’t tell me off!

What I had for a full day at court...

Normally on a court day, I go to Caffè Nero and get lunch paid for on work expenses. A luxury I already appreciated, I appreciate even more now! I was hungry all day. When living from a food bank, it’s not like you can make sandwiches to take with you. I had a Pot Noodle when back at the office at around 4pm and absolutely wolfed it down.

I know Monday didn’t go very well, but Tuesday went even worse, and I fell at the last hurdle! I forgot my biscuits and the bread to go with my tin of soup, the lack of food was really affecting my cognitive ability - I was forgetful and irritable. Then I opened my tin of soup and it had gone out of date a few months earlier and was a solid, smelly block.

The out of date block of smelly soup!

So I went to Tesco and bought bread, soup and rich tea biscuits. But the fact was, if I had no money and was relying on a food bank in real life, I would have just had to go hungry. There wouldn’t have been £3 available to buy extra food with.

I had hardly any food left at the end of the week and ate plain tinned tomatoes and pasta for dinner. My only other choice was beans on dry toast.

By Tuesday I was feeling faint and my mood and thoughts had been really affected by my diet. I was forgetful and indecisive, finding it hard to make decisions. As a journalist with a whole bunch of articles still to write, I had to have some food not just for my body, but for my brain!

Chicken in white wine with pasta - a gloopy mess!
Food bank charity The Trussell Trust have said even nurses have had to rely on food banks before - I can’t imagine how they can do such a demanding job, on their feet all day, on odd shifts, making critical decisions about patients’ well being - on a food bank diet. Especially not for longer than a few days.

Most of the time I was full enough on the food provided, but it really just wasn’t very nice. I think the thing that makes it really bad for people having to rely on a food bank - instead of choosing to rely on a food bank like I did - is that you have no choice.

Though the staff at the food bank were all very friendly and non-judgemental, it still felt like my dignity was being taken away by having to ask for food, having the choice taken out of my hands.

I’m lucky that I still had a warm, secure home, I didn’t have to worry about what else to spend my money on, and I didn’t have any dependents I had to provide for.

My cinema snack - a bit different to Ben and Jerry's!

At the end of the week, I was able to simply switch back to eating my normal foods without a care in the world - but people who have been in such financial difficulty as relying on a food bank could be dealing with additional issues - such as rental arrears, missed council tax payments and other debts they couldn’t pay while a benefits claim was being processed - meaning food would still be an expensive issue.

Though they fill you up and give you enough energy to get on with life, just eating carbs for days on end made me feel sluggish, gave me ‘brain fog’ and made me feel anything but energetic. For the short term it’s ok, but by day seven I was dreaming about fresh fruits, roasted vegetables and a nice lean steak! I thought I would crave things like chocolate and cheese like I do when eating healthily - but it was the healthy foods my body was crying out for!

I actually lost 4lb in weight over the seven days - which is ok for me as someone with pounds to spare - but for already underweight people, or those relying on food banks for weeks at the time, the effect to their health could be devastating.

Spaghetti Bolognaise isn't the same without cheese...

When my challenge was over, I headed back to Mission Trinity with a donation we’ve collected at the Goole Times office, and I asked David and his wife Caroline what the biggest reason for people coming to food banks was. David replied with just two words: “Universal credit.”

He explained: “There are issues with delays, and there are issues with harsh sanctions. It doesn’t help that people are asked to go to meetings in strange places.

“One man from Goole was asked to go for an interview in Melton. This is a man on a low income - he has no transport - Melton is a difficult place to get to - why have it there? So of course he lost his benefits because he couldn’t get to the meeting.”

Another factor was zero-hours contracts and a lack of employment rights, with people being let go very easily and having to wait for a six-week delay before being given benefits - in which time they would have to relay on food banks for food.

A working lunch

David said: “People need to know that they will be working and getting paid. People can’t survive on so few hours. It’ a good system for employers - but it’s terrible for workers.”

There is an image that food banks are only used by the homeless or those on benefits, but often a change of situation such as a relationship breakdown and the financial difficulties that come with that can also see people using food banks who have never had money issues before.

David said: “The system we have now isn’t fully worked out. It has faults and it’s not working for people.”

Tinned pineapple wasn't too bad luckily... I needed fruit!

David and Caroline, alongside an army of volunteers, have been running the food bank and Friday night meals from the church for nine years, and do not know how long they will have to keep providing this service - but demands are so high they don’t see themselves stopping anytime soon.

I personally feel the situation with the delays and sanctions on Universal Credit is simply inhumane. People are able to budget and make the right food choices for themselves when given adequate benefits - but I feel not having enough money coming in for five or six weeks is simply unacceptable in this day and age.

We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world - and people on your street, they could even be your neighbours - are having to rely on emergency food parcels. Why are we allowing this to happen?


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