Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 9 November 2013

Let them pull crackers!

Foodbanks, we are told, provide essential sustenance to those in dire need and are a last resort for desperate people struggling to feed their families.

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?


  1. "If you're going to give them a gift, give what you would have given to your relative or friend."

    A novelty wine-bottle opener? That'll come in handy in the Sudan!

  2. "desperate people struggling to feed their families."

    Ask a hard-nosed and experienced social worker if they ever met one. The answer I get is no.

  3. Julia, in a similar vein, all those electronic gadgets won't be much use when the nearest socket is two days' walk away.

    AKH, I'm prepared to believe they exist out there - our benefits system is more than a little fallible - but that the genuine claimants have to share the limited resources with an opportunistic multitude.

    The problem in assessing the situation is the persistent equation of take-up with real need, as if the same population that supports a startling level of petty crime in our cities would shrink from dishonestly accepting charitable handouts from a class they despise.

  4. "If you're going to give them a gift, give what you would have given to your relative or friend."

    That'll be nothing, then. I opted out of Christmas twenty years ago and haven't missed it one little bit.

    Oh, yeah and Christmas does not start in the second week of November, FFS! Was up in Leeds last week and they were switching on the Christmas lights. Jeebus!

  5. Turkey fear time across the pond too.

  6. LR, I salute the courage of your convictions.

    We have a midwinter feast and family get-together which, for the convenience of those in work, takes place on the 25th December - something of a compromise for an atheist household.

    My own pet peeve at the moment is the news media fussing over chain store TV adverts - in the first week of November.

    JH, the same commercialisation is happening in the US - the 'Black Friday' sales do rather negate the whole idea of Thanksgiving.

  7. Alcohol free Christmas fayre to people who need foodbanks?
    That's not right at all. A foodbank should take in whatever donations it gets and distribute evenly.
    If it gets a bunch of unwanted selection boxes, fair enough, hand them out, whatever time of year it is. Otherwise it's the tinned creamed corn.
    Beggars as they say....

    Julia - A Sudanese could dig a well to keep a large village supplied with water using only a novelty wine bottle opener.

  8. Macheath - Off topic but I thought you might like this:


  9. Bucko, that sounds far too much like good sense!

    And as for your link; I don't know whether to thank you or run away screaming...

  10. Indeed! I'm just waiting for the 'Menage a troisie'


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