Were you aware that the famous actor Andy Garcia was born with a foetus growing out of his left shoulder? It was removed from him when he was a toddler. I had not known this and I am unhappy that some sort of conspiracy, some wall of silence, was constructed to keep this news from the paying public. I watched The Untouchables in blissful ignorance of the fact; had I known I would have picketed the cinema. Come clean about the dead foetus, Garcia! I am aware of the foetus business now only because I stumbled across an excellent website entitled ‘25 Celebrities With Hideous Physical Deformities’, and Garcia was there at number six. Another actor, Jennifer Garner, was in the top ten on account of her ‘mangled toes’, which she has cunningly shielded from the public all these years. The bad toes were the consequence of a nasty condition called brachymetatarsia, apparently. And the singer Kesha has a tail. Surely this sort of stuff should have been made public before? These people are happy to bask in mass public adoration — but would that adoration have been forthcoming if we had known all along that they were monsters? I doubt it very much.
I found the site during my early morning trawl of the internet looking for people less fortunate than myself. I find it difficult to start the day without a good gloat — just ten minutes or so to get the juices flowing. I had actually tapped in to my search engine: ‘Photographs of people getting stuff from food banks’, which I was sure would cheer me up for a while. But, strangely, there are very few such shots available. There are plenty of photographs of do-gooders handing out crates of food, smiling beatifically and with halos around their heads, but very few of the actual customers. And when, after exhaustive searching, I did find three or four such pictures, I was filled not with glee but instead with an unquenchable anger.
You see, the one thing all the people in those photographs had in common is that they were morbidly obese. Very, very, fat indeed. It occurred to me that these people had already spent vast amounts of money on food and had dropped by the local food bank for a freebie top-up. They didn’t look as if they were, you know, starving. They looked as though they were well and truly sated already. First they had cleared out Morrisons and then they had cleared out the stuff which Morrisons had itself cleared out to the local food bank.
And so it seems incontestable that, far from providing an invaluable last-course resource for the nation’s poorest people, these food banks are actually exacerbating the country’s appalling obesity problem. If you’re going to take advantage of a food bank, at least have the good grace to look a bit peckish and skeletal. Don’t waddle in there sweating with exertion having just swallowed 14 bacon double cheeseburgers, super-size fries and a vat of coke.
Food banks are in the news just now because, apparently, they bring shame and disgrace on this great country of ours, and not just because they are fuelling the obesity epidemic. This is according to the food blogger Jack Monroe, who is rapidly emerging as one of the nation’s most supremely irritating people. It was Monroe who tweeted her disgust about how the Prime Minister ‘uses stories about his dead son’ to sell off the NHS to ‘his friends’, an observation for which she was rightly castigated. Her job, when not tweeting idiocies, is to concoct recipes to feed the supposedly starving masses — but, in truth, she creates dishes which could only possibly be eaten by middle-class lesbians like Jack herself. I mean, do you fancy a full English or a plate of Jack’s kale pesto?
But Jack was not alone in feeling shamed by food banks. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has just presented a report about poverty in Britain. He said that the impoverishment of millions of British people was more shocking, to him, than poverty in such places as Africa. I like Welby; he is a patently decent chap with a touch of humility about him. But I wonder if he should have run his comments by his rival for the top job, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu? He could have enlightened Justin as to the very real differences between poverty levels in the UK and those in Africa, from personal experience. Sentamu was brought up in Idi Amin’s Uganda and knows poverty when he sees it. Anyway, Welby’s report called for the nationalisation of food banks under some new department called Feeding Britain, at a cost of something like £150 million to the taxpayer.
Rather wonderfully, the food bank people have not concurred. Indeed, the man who set up one of the country’s most successful food banks, in Oxford, has suggested that nothing could be worse. Robin Aitken MBE is a former BBC journalist (and an ex-employee of mine at the Today programme). He is a staunch and fairly right-ish Conservative, if I remember correctly. He said that rather than bringing shame or disgrace upon the country, ‘Food banks are a marvellous example of how the best instincts of society can be harnessed into voluntary, grass-roots action to help people who are most in need. Far from helping, I think state involvement would be toxic.’ That seems to be right, doesn’t it? If there is money to be spent on alleviating poverty, then use it to raise the minimum wage so that fewer people need the food banks. And leave the running of the food banks to people like Robin Aitken.