Over the last 20 years, food banks in Australia have expanded nationwide and are a well-organised “industry” operating as a third tier of the emergency food relief system. The purpose of this paper is to overview the expansion and operation of food banks as an additional self-perpetuating “tier” in the response to hunger.
This paper draws on secondary data sourced from the internet; as well as information provided by Foodbank Australia and Food Bank South Australia (known as Food Bank SA) to outline the history, development and operation of food banks. Food banking is then critically analysed by examining the nature and framing of the social problems and policies that food banking seeks to address. This critique challenges the dominant intellectual paradigm that focuses on solving problems; rather it questions how problem representation may imply certain understandings.
The issue of food banks is framed as one of food re-distribution and feeding hungry people; however, the paper argue that “the problem” underpinning the food bank industry is one of maintaining food system efficiency. Food banks continue as a neo-liberal mechanism to deflect query, debate and structural action on food poverty and hunger. Consequently their existence does little to ameliorate the problem of food poverty.
New approaches and partnerships with stakeholders remain key challenges for food banks to work more effectively to address food poverty.
While the food bank industry remains the dominant solution to food poverty in Australia, debate will be deflected from the underlying structural causes of hunger.
This paper contributes to the limited academic literature and minimal critique of the food bank industry in Australia. It proposes that the rapid expansion of food banks is a salient marker of government and policy failure to address food poverty.
The authors wish to thank Emily Rutherford for graphic design assistance in producing Figure 1. Thanks also to Richard Pagliaro, Justin Lang and Sarah Pennell for information on food banks in South Australia and nationally. Furthermore, the constructive comments from the two anonymous reviewers helped to strengthen the paper and are gratefully acknowledged.
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