With the combination of the coronavirus lockdown and the latest and most severe meltdown in the world capitalist economy, hunger is rising in Britain with a vengeance.
The Guardian has reported on the findings of the Food Foundation charitym, which has revealed that at least 1.5 million Britons have gone one whole day or more without eating owing to a lack of money or access to food. (UK hunger crisis: 1.5m people go whole day without food by Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian, 11 April 2020)
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the British ruling elite had been fully committed to the class warfare of austerity for more than a decade – ie, of passing the burden of bailing out the banks in 2008 onto the backs of the poor.
As those cuts had their inevitable effect of further impoverishing the masses, there has begun to arise a questioning current amongst bourgeois economists, some of whom have been denouncing austerity as a self-defeating strategy. (See, for example, The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it? by Paul Krugman, The Guardian, 29 April 2015)
Austerity is class warfare
The Conservative party understands the need for this class warfare, however, as do most establishment Labourites, despite the occasional soundbite about ‘championing the working class’. A cursory glance at the last century shows that Labour’s actual history of fighting for workers’ interests has been overwhelmingly abysmal.
The rise of ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer and the pitiful failure of the Corbyn project to move the party to the left, during which the ‘socialist’ Jeremy Corbyn was sabotaged every step of the way by his own party, should disabuse anyone of the notion that Labour is capable of fighting for the working class.
In 2018, a United Nations rapporteur for human rights highlighted the net result of a decade of austerity for Britain’s poorest workers:
“Fourteen million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50 percent below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials.
“The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7 percent rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40 percent. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.”
Food as a commodity
In capitalist society, the food we eat is produced as a commodity to be bought and sold with the sole aim of making profits for the producers, distributors and sellers. The production and distribution of food therefore must satisfy the owners of capital, not the hunger of the people.
If there is overproduction of potatoes (for example), causing the price of potatoes to drop too low for them to be sold at a profit (or perhaps to be sold at all), big agribusiness and supermarket conglomerates will choose to put those potatoes in a landfill or let them rot in the fields rather than give them away to people who could eat them.
According to US campaigning group the Natural Resources Defense Council, up to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is never eaten. (Food waste, 18 January 2016)
Last year, sixth-generation Californian farmer Cannon Michael left over 100 acres of ripe melons unharvested. He couldn’t afford to pay workers to pick them because the cost of labour, packing and shipping would have been more than the price he could get for the fruit.
“‘It was very frustrating to grow a high-quality product and have to leave it in the fields,’ said Michael, the president/CEO of Bowles Farming Company, which grows 300 to 400 acres of cantaloupes in Los Banos, California, every season, in addition to hundreds of acres of watermelon, tomatoes, and cotton. ‘If the pricing drops,’ due to oversupply or other reasons, said Michael, ‘there’s a certain economic threshold that just doesn’t justify harvesting the crop.’” (Study finds farm-level food waste is much worse than we thought, CivilEats, 20 August 2019)
Though the above example is taken from the USA, we can be sure that wherever society is organised on capitalist lines and exposed to the anarchy of the market, this criminal waste is occurring.
Since the supply-chain disruptions of the coronavirus lockdown, for example, thousands of gallons of milk produced for the hospitality sector (cafes, restaurants and hotels) in Britain has been poured down the drain rather than being distributed to the one-third of British children who are known to be living below the poverty line. (Dairy farmers forced to pour milk down the drain by Rachel Millard, The Telegraph, 9 April 2020)
While food continues to be produced as a commodity, rather than to satisfy an essential human need, we will continue to see food waste on this horrific scale, continue to be at the mercy of a food industry more interested in getting us hooked on processed garbage than in offering us real nutrition, and continue to witness the obscenity of ever-greater numbers of workers going hungry in the midst of plenty.
Meanwhile, we must demand food and housing security for every unemployed and furloughed worker, so that no-one feels they must engage in dangerous or unnecessary work to feed their families, and no families are evicted or left hungry owing to a lack of any income at all.