Containing Hunger, Contesting Injustice? Exploring the Transnational Growth of Foodbanking- and Counter-responses- Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Food Ethics. 2022;7(1):6. doi: 10.1007/s41055-022-00099-y. Epub 2022 Mar 19.


COVID-19 caused levels of household food insecurity to spike, but the precarity of so many people in wealthy countries is an outgrowth of decades of eroding public provisions and labour protections that once protected people from hunger, setting the stage for the virus' unevenly-distributed harms. The prominence of corporate-sponsored foodbanking as a containment response to pandemic-aggravated food insecurity follows decades of replacing rights with charity. We review structural drivers of charity's growth to prominence as a hunger solution in North America, and of its spread to countries including the UK. By highlighting pre-pandemic pressures shaping foodbanking, including charities' efforts to retool themselves as health providers, we ask whether anti-hunger efforts during the pandemic serve to contain ongoing socioeconomic crises and the unjust living conditions they cause, or contest them through transformative pathways to a just food system. We suggest that pandemic-driven philanthropic and state funding flows have bolstered foodbanking and the food system logics that support it. By contextualising the complex and variegated politics of foodbanking in broader movements, from community food security to food sovereignty, we reframe simplistic narratives of charity and highlight the need for justice-oriented structural changes in wealth redistribution and food system organisation if we are to prevent the kinds of emergency-within-emergency that we witnessed as COVID-19 revealed the proximity of many to hunger.

Keywords: COVID-19; Foodbanks; Household food insecurity; Philanthropy; Right to food.