The United States and the rest of the world are still processing the reality and implications of the Biden win. But one takeaway none of us can ignore is the call, over and over again, for unity, community. A call for everyone to come together.
The last few years on both sides of the Atlantic have seen an explosion of selfishness, the celebration of Me First from our respective shock-haired leaders.
Now we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic and never has unselfishness been more necessary. If we want to return to anything like normal, we need to think of others in every aspect of our lives, in ways we have never had to consider before – from safe distancing to quarantining, from hand washing to the wearing of face masks in shops and on public transport to following the latest guidance, however confusing it might appear to be.
By and large, the UK has got behind most of this (with the shockingly woeful exception of quarantining where fewer than 20% obey the requirement to stay in for 14 days). But there is a striking exception and that is the stockpiling of food.
Who can forget the tears of the exhausted nurse, broadcast on Twitter, who came off a long and gruelling shift caring for Covid patients during the first lockdown and went to the supermarket to buy some food, only to met with row upon row of empty shelves? Supermarkets have repeatedly assured the public that they will maintain food supplies and it is to their immense credit that, despite the huge pressures and difficulties caused by Covid – outbreaks in food factories and processing plants are rife – they have largely managed to do so.
But the public is not listening.
Well before the first lockdown and long in advance of the second, pasta, rice, coffee, tea and all sorts of key essential goods, flew out of the shops. A glance at Amazon or Ebay showed grossly inflated prices from profiteering traders. Who knew loo rolls could cost so much? There are Facebook groups dedicated to sharing tips and proudly showing off photos of huge hoards of food.
The panic is infectious. Briefly, earlier, on the year, in the first wave of fear, I will confess I thought I should be doing something similar.
But then I thought about what I was doing. I know about Just in Time in deliveries – there are no huge warehouses at the back of the supermarket, new supplies have to come in from distant depots. And how much of our food is imported – 50% comes from mainland Europe. I realised that I was taking a completely disproportionate amount of my ‘share’ of available goods – what about the elderly, often not online, who rely on shopping every few days so they can carry it home? What about those living in confined spaces with no room for storage? What about those who simply can’t afford to stockpile, in fact, can barely afford food at all? Use of food banks has sky-rocketed and 1.5 million new children signed up for free school meals at the start of the autumn term.
And as the UK’s negotiations enter what may be their final stretch this week, the prospect of No Deal is still very much on the cards. What does that mean for British food supplies? Will there be thousands of lorries queuing up on the other side of the Channel, unable to bring their fruit, vegetables, milk, cheese to re-stock our empty chillers? We simply don’t know and it is that uncertainty that may well trigger another surge in stockpiling.
We’ve become accustomed to a Winner Takes All approach to life. Jeff Bezos is worth $200 billion but many of his workers are on the minimum wage. Perhaps it was always there in us, or perhaps it was Mrs Thatcher who started it when she said, There is no such thing as society. But Covid shows us there must be. Be you ever so high or ever so low, the virus does not care. Only by really by being ‘ all in this together’ will we come to manage this frightening virus and reclaim the old pleasures in life.
So next time your hand stretches out to take two family packs of baked beans rather than one, or four bumper bags of pasta rather than two, put the extra ones back or in the basket on the way out for food banks.
Words Caroline Kenyon, Director, The Food Awards Company
Caroline Kenyon is founder and director of The Food Awards Company and set up the Lincoln Food Summit to address food poverty.