The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in our food system, not least the scale of food insecurity that has meant children reliant on free school meals have been left hungry and without adequate provision.
Urgent action is needed now and in the face of potential future disruption.
At Food for Life and Soil Association we are working hard at both a policy level to secure change nationally, and at a programme level to provide real support to people who need it most.
Our mission remains that good food should be easily available for everyone, everywhere and every day. This pandemic has made access to good food an even more urgent issue, and our work is needed now more than ever.
Here’s how we are responding during the Coronavirus pandemic:
Supporting access to good food
Our policy team have been working hard behind the scenes, continuing to call on government to make school meal provision available over the school holidays as well as during term time, both to children eligible for Free School Meals and to those ineligible but living in food insecure households.
We had success with this over the Easter holidays and focus now is on the longer summer holiday. Along with other food organisations including School Food Matters, Sustain, Chefs in Schools and Food Foundation we have been in regular contact with the Department for Education, feeding into inquiries and tabling petitions that have gathered tens of thousands of signatures.
We are so proud of the many Food for Life schools that have really stepped in to make sure their pupils remain well fed, while at the same time playing a leading role on local efforts to support those in need. For example:
Washingborough Academy in Lincoln are providing healthy, hot meals to the over 70s in their local area. Read more about it here.
And St George Church of England Community Primary School in Lincolnshire have been continuing to offer fresh, nutritionally balanced and delicious ‘grab and go’ menus packed full of fruit and veggies for children entitled to free school meals, including over the school holidays. Read more here.
Our guidance for schools and caterers on Free School Meals remains regularly updated in-line with the Government’s latest advice, enabling our communities to rely on as a source of up-to-date information and advice.
Continuing food education during lockdown
Schools across the UK are enjoying our free of charge Membership offer which we have made available to all schools until October.
All Food for Life schools are now receiving practical teaching guides and lesson plans that are ideal for smaller class sizes and more time spent outdoors. We are asking schools to share with their parents who are home-educating, and we are also sharing them on Twitter and Facebook.
For Food for Life early years settings, we are similarly sharing resources for families that cover nutrition basics and exploratory food education, as well as partnering with TastEd to promote sensory, non-judgemental food education for this age group.
We are working hard to develop our online support offering including podcasts, virtual network meetings and an online course. More on this coming soon.
Support for school cooks and caterers
The school cooks and catering community has risen to the challenge of keeping food on the table for those who need it. Our dedicated Cooks and Caterers Covid-19 Facebook Group is being well used by this community to share their experiences, problem solve and support one another.
We have launched a series of short, practical Training courses to help and are working on further useful tools.
As with our schools, there are many examples of Food for Life Served Here caterers pulling out all the stops to keep people fed, and we are so proud of the service they’re offering. HC3S are keeping kitchens open to serve hot food to those who need it most, maintaining FFLSH standards and offering parents much-needed recipes and advice. Read more here.
Funding communities’ emergency response to Coronavirus
Food for Life Get Togethers has made £70,000 available to fund emergency Coronavirus response initiatives taking place in communities across the UK.
We have provided funding of up to £1,000 to 73 community and voluntary sector organisations that are reaching some of our most vulnerable citizens. The money will fund community support initiatives, including fresh food supplies for low-income households, growing kits to enable people to grow their own food when they are self-isolating, and online cookery classes so that families can learn to cook from scratch in a fun way. Read more about it here.
Making change at a national level
As well as offering practical support on the ground to our schools, parents, early years setting and caterers, we know that lasting change needs to be embedded by Government policy.
Soil Association’s food policy and influence work is striving to ensure:
- A resilient food and farming system. Food production that doesn’t safeguard the natural world leaves us vulnerable. Read a recent blog on this from our Policy & Strategy Director here.
- That we transition away from intensive farming – otherwise we risk future pandemics and the threat of antimicrobial resistance. Read more on this here.
- UK diets are re-oriented around fresh and minimally processed foods, and away from ultra-processed foods
- That we achieve a comprehensive and cohesive National Food Strategy
Food for Life: for now and for our future
Alongside focusing on immediate needs right now, we are also preparing for the future.
We believe we have a vital role to play in being ready to support our communities when we emerge from this crisis and its impact. Work is underway in many spheres ranging from: helping teachers, school cooks and caterers to plan for and cope with a return to schools under social distancing; continuing to support local workforces and investing in local skills through provision such as our cooks’ training courses; and ensuring Free School Meals are adequately funded and that provision is long term, not just during this immediate crisis period.
“Commissioning Food for Life will be paramount for us over the next year: securing the wellbeing and health of our young people post-coronavirus will be more important than ever.”
Vikki Tolley, Public Health Practitioner (Children’s Healthy Weight / Oral Health / Health in Education), Public Health Service, Walsall MBC
At Food for Life our programmes and policy work join the dots between people and health, our climate and nature. We know that changing how we eat reduces our impact on our world, makes our relationship with food more sustainable, and improves our physical and mental health.
The coronavirus pandemic has made access to good food an even more urgent issue with our work needed more than ever, for now and for our future.