ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Christmas sermon on Food banks

The other day, while buying substantial quantities of cheese, ham and other delicious goodies at Borough Market, I considered how fortunate I am to be able to afford festive food of this quality.

There are many areas where society is becoming increasingly classless, but food and drink isn't really one of them.

At the top of the Tenenbaum, obviously, there are people far richer than I who can afford to enjoy this sort of artisan produce and shop in high-end markets all year round. (And indeed there is a tiny elite layer above them whose household staff buy it in for them!)

Then you've got people like me who, through a combination of economics and convenience are largely supermarket shoppers but who are lucky enough to be able to afford to splash out on Ginger Pig Ham occasionally. (It is fucking great ham even if it works out at about £3 per single slice!)

I know it's a bit of a crass generalisation, but lots of people will have a modest, Tescoey Christmas, with their tubes of Pringles, tins of Stella and industrial British pâté, and then there are those who will struggle to afford even this. Maybe even some who will be going hungry on Christmas Day.

I considered how I fitted somewhere in the middle of this socioeconomic Cheese and Ham sandwich, as I made a donation to the local Food bank, including a pack of Mince Pies (fairly decent ones too - Sainsbury's Taste the Difference, I think they were) to hopefully brighten someone else's Christmas.

They only accept dried/packaged/tinned food, otherwise I'd have gone the whole hog and taken them a bit of ham, maybe some of the gloriously stinky Époisses too.

Little bit of politics there

I'm sure this all sounds terribly worthy and patronising, and this next bit will probably come across as needlessly controversial, but it's about time a food writer waded in on the 'Food banks' debate, if only to add a fresh perspective.

The Cutty Sark at Night: Uncontroversial
We frequently hear how scandalous it is that so many people are dependent on Food banks and how their rise over the past few years is such a terrible thing. Often the reporting carries a palpable undertone that things would be better if they had never been invented; that it would be somehow gladdening if they failed due to lack of demand.

The received wisdom is that the rise of the Food bank is a sad sign of how 'the most vulnerable' are suffering, and that benefits should be more generous so nobody has to 'resort' to using a Food bank.

Bollocks. Absolute bollocks.

I know there is a lot of political capital to be made from dictating the public mindset in this way, but are we really so arse-about-face that we now think charity is worse than state handouts?

Clearly we are.

Look, charity is a good thing. It comes from the heart. It's about freely giving; lending a helping hand to those less fortunate. Being charitable is being kindhearted. I say again, it's a fucking good thing.

On the other hand, State benefits, like all public spending, are forcibly taken from taxpayers who have no say in the matter, and distributed back amongst the people through inefficient and appallingly-run channels. Is going to a Food bank run by the kindly really more demeaning than going to a 'Jobcentre Plus' staffed by the unsympathetic, the disingenuous and the morose?

And so, logically, if charity is good, then the rise of Food banks must be a good thing too. It means people who are desperately hungry get food without having to rely on involuntary contributions from unwilling taxpayers. Turn things that way around and it makes a lot more sense - to me at least. They just need to remove some of the bureaucracy and form-filling and make access to the food easier - it's not like there is a shortage of food at these places, thanks to the kindness and generosity of good people.

I'm not trying to be a mouthpiece for an agenda of austerity, and I'm not even really getting into the wider debate of whether a high-tax economy is or isn't indicative of a civilised society. This is just about the sheer nonsense spouted by the anti-Food bank brigade.

Yes, I'm a fairly radical Libertarian, but this really shouldn't be a radical point: The milk of human kindness is a far better thing than the iron hand of the government. It just is. That viewpoint shouldn't be remotely controversial, and the fact that it is just illustrates how things have changed since Christmas was invented by the Victorians.

But there is no better time of year to ponder on the importance and greatness of charity.

And, with that thought in mind, I bid you a very Merry Christmas, whether you're eating Ginger Pig ham, or Mince Pies from a Food bank.


  1. I don't think what you are writing is particularly controversial. Food banks are only perceived as negative due to the fact that the people who use them are so poor that they cannot afford to buy their own food. That is why their existence is viewed as a sign of a failing society. In fact, I would suggest this is the most 'left-leaning' thing you have written, and I look forward to your article in the Socialist Worker sometime soon.

  2. It may very well be the most left-leaning thing he's written but that's not saying much. It is still basically a defence of Tory cuts coupled with a wistful yearning for a return to Victorian values.

    The reason Socialist governments came along in the first place is because charity on its own wasn't doing enough to alleviate the poor. People weren't giving enough voluntarily so they had to be compelled to give more. It's now generally accepted that this is the way to do things, which is why dependence on foodbanks is controversial.

  3. I think the poor should get off their fat arses and start looking after themselves. The rich have been carrying the poor for far too Long, and they should be grateful to the bankers when they donate some tripe, bread or perhaps, if they are lucky, some cheese to the local foodbank. Bring back fox hunting and the workhouses, that's what I say! End of.

  4. A Tory supporting cuts to the welfare state? Never! Lolz


Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.