In 2008 together with my wife we went on a 6 month holiday travelling from Canada to Honduras by bicycle. Whilst there were a great many moments of wonder and personal achievement during the trip, one of the things that I recall most vividly was the hunger.
My ability to get enough food was limited by both the carrying capacity of our bike panniers as well as the small daily budget we had set ourselves for the trip. Cycling on average 50-60 miles a day created a grumbling ache that even 4 or 5 meals a day could not satiate. I woke up hungry every day having dreamed of food and then spent the rest of the day pedaling away hungry and thinking about food.
Despite the pangs of hunger, the near moments of collapse from heat exhaustion and sun stroke, there were so many moments that gave me pause to reflect on how truly privileged I was to be able to do such a trip. In fact, much of my life continues to throw up moments that stop me to pause and reflect on that privilege.
One such moment came last week whilst reading about a girl called Jack. Last year Jack Monroe wrote an incredibly poignant blog post called Hunger Hurts about living on the poverty line and trying to feed her 2 year old son. Read it, it will move you. This short video of Jack made by the Guardian called cooking on the breadline really brought home the crushing oppressiveness of what life might be like trying to find enough to survive.
Eventually that blog-post and her other posts about making delicious meals from the cheapest of cheap ingredients gave Jack national media exposure, a recipe book deal and a job with her local paper. But does that make Jack one of the lucky ones?
According to a report in the Guardian yesterday figures show that there has been 78% rise in food bank in enquiries in the UK over the last 6 months. The most worrying aspect is that many of these new enquiries are coming from people who are in employment.
In a country with the 7th largest economy in the world to have increasing numbers of people living with that dependency and uncertainty hanging over their heads seems absurd. Whatever the root causes of these issues might be, I think the salient fact is that life should not be that hard for ordinary people.
It feels horrifically reductive of me to try and juxtapose my feelings of hunger from a massively self-indulgent biking holiday to that of people living on the bread-line, but it is the only frame of reference I have. I have at times lived a frugal existence compared to many of my contemporaries, but I have never known the fear and anxiety of what my world would be like without that well-founded security of food and shelter.
And I hope I never do, because the reality looks and sounds very grim.