What, then, should we make of this appeal in a local paper soliciting donations to a foodbank of (this is the complete list):
'selection boxes, crackers, tins of biscuits, savoury items, non-alcoholic drinks and crackers for cheese'?This triumph of sentimentality over reason is a gesture with 'Zeitgeist' written all over it, made for a generation reared to the strains of 'Do they know it's Christmas time at all?' Since the popular culture of a nation now dedicates several days of the year to over-consumption, everyone should be enabled to take part in this seasonal communion.
It's an argument which, taken to extremes, led to an interview I once heard on the radio - sadly, I have been unable to trace it since - in which an indignant woman condemned Oxfam Unwrapped for sending 'gifts' of tools and household utensils to needy families in Africa.
"They don't want spades! They want the same things as you; iPods, phones, nice clothes. If you're going to give them a gift, give what you would have given to your relative or friend."Assuming that the supply of aid is not unlimited, should charity really consist of giving luxuries to someone who lacks the basics for survival? I suspect, in the case of festive foodbank items, the answer has more to do with a warm glow of satisfaction for the donor - and the appeal sponsors - than with providing essential assistance to those in need.
And that is, of course, without the interesting element of health concerns. The foodbank in question is in a town where, according to a friend who works in healthcare, many of the poorest inhabitants are seriously overweight and unhealthy and there is a high incidence of diabetes; surely the last thing they need is more 'recreational' food.
The oddest item on the list, though, has to be 'crackers'. Since they later stipulate 'crackers for cheese', it appears that they are asking for party ones, surely an unusual item for a foodbank to be distributing and an expensive one for the donors when the same amount of money would buy a respectable amount of protein or fresh produce.
Christmas has long since lost its religious significance for a large part of the population - assisted by the Hanukkah-friendly 'holiday season' TV, films and music of the USA - and been replaced by an ever-increasing consumerfest of vanities in which everyone is entitled to join, even if it is at someone else's expense.
This is, I should add, an indirect appeal by a local firm rather than by the foodbank itself; I can't say it has done much to enhance my opinion of their staff's intelligence, but what can you expect, given the norms dictated by constant seasonal bombardment of retail advertising?