Friday, 3 May 2019

Young people taking a stand for their #Right2Food

Guest post by Dr Pamela L Graham, Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University

Image courtesy of Children's Future Food Inquiry via twitter 
“It’s time to act! It’s time this country gave every child the right to food!” Such a powerful statement. But, these aren’t the words of a politician addressing Parliament or a celebrity on a new mission to make a difference. These are the words of Corey - a 15-year-old, Young Food Ambassador who sat on a stage in Westminster and bravely told an audience about her experiences of food insecurity. As a carer for her disabled mum, Corey takes responsibility for making sure her family have access to food by collecting food parcels when needed and sharing her own meals to make sure there is enough food to go around.

This was just one account shared at the launch of the Children’s Future Food Inquiry report on 25 April 2019. As a researcher involved in work around food insecurity, I was invited to attend this event. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend lots of fantastic events on children’s food in recent years, but this one was by far the most thought-provoking.

The event attracted some high profile speakers, including Children’s Future Food Inquiry Ambassador, Dame Emma Thompson. She spoke passionately about the need for us as adults to listen to what children are saying about their circumstances and take action to make a change. Children and Families Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, also addressed the audience acknowledging the importance of children’s views. But then came what Dame Emma Thompson described as “the real VIPs” and six Young Food Ambassadors took to the stage and I was blown away!

Image courtesy of Dr Philippa Whitford via twitter 
I was struck by the confidence and clarity with which these young people spoke. They weren’t there telling their stories to gain sympathy; they meant business and were there to demand action. They gave accounts of parents who struggled to make ends meet, working yet still unable to attain a healthy diet. They questioned the motives of a society where unhealthy food is promoted to them through shiny promotions and easy access. They highlighted the stigma associated with food insecurity and the need to reduce this within food systems set up to support them. These young people know what they should be eating but have had enough of not being able to access it.

The young people highlighted policies and practices that hinder their access to healthy food. Policies and practices that were probably implemented by adults. As adults, I think we have a responsibility to use the knowledge, skills and resources we have to support young people to make a change, but this needs to be done with input from the young people who are affected by these changes.

Young Food Ambassadors talk about their experiences

A great example of the difference that can be made when children are listened to was described by Richard ‘Beef’ Frankland from Prospex Youth Centre (who stars in the film above). He talked about how the staff at the youth centre began providing toast and progressed to cooking full meals, all at the request of the young people. The young people are also growing herbs, trying new foods and learning about where their food comes from in response to their queries about why the vegetables being prepared for cooking at the youth centre are covered in soil. From research I’ve worked on previously around breakfast and holiday clubs, I know that Beef’s work is just one example of the difference school and community groups are making by listening to the needs of those they are working with.

I left the event wanting to do more. Reading the Children’s Future Food Inquiry report on the way home, I found that research I’ve been involved in with the Healthy Living lab at Northumbria University had been cited. It’s always nice to see your work cited, knowing it’s not filed away unread, but this occasion was bitter sweet. Children are still going hungry and missing out on valuable nutritious food so there’s still more work to do. Going forward, I’m keen to do more research around food insecurity involving young people and people like Beef, who know their communities and are committed to making a difference.

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