Not long ago I had a moment of weakness and committed a cardinal sin, for which I must now repent: I tweeted a photograph of my breakfast.
Like most social media misdemeanours, it was a momentary lapse of judgement. But what could possibly have compelled me to broadcast the contents of my first and favourite meal of the day? Simple: it contained Spam (and not the kind that promises an instant solution to all your romantic, financial and cosmetic woes). No, this wasn’t unsolicited email. It was unsolicited food.
Unwanted spam – a tautology, if ever there was one – is always with us. Even so, nothing quite prepares you for the moment it turns up on your plate, sliced and fried, masquerading as bacon in your ‘full English’ breakfast.
Up until that point, I wouldn’t have considered myself a food snob: margarine, custard creams and instant coffee are all kosher for me. I like to think I’d eat anything and everything, within reason. My go-to meal as a student was pasta topped with baked beans and tinned sardines. I’ve even sampled deep-fried locust and grasshopper (the trick is to remove the limbs and head beforehand). And yet, I drew the line at being spammed.
Rather than responding with grace and gratitude, I put down my cutlery, picked up my phone and captured the moment for posterity. It wasn’t long before I felt a pang of guilt at my lack of culinary compassion: not least because this full English wasn’t cooked in a greasy spoon in Britain. It was served up in a guesthouse in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Salone (as the locals call it) is one of the world’s poorest countries. Over two thirds of its citizens live in poverty. Life expectancy is about 48 years. A fifth of under-fives are underweight. Infant mortality rates are high. In short, many Saloneans – the children, women and men behind the statistics – cannot afford to be flippant about food.
And flippant is what I have been. I am spoilt for choice when it comes to my meals. I control what, where and how often I eat. I am used to snacking whenever I fancy it. I indulge my sweet tooth as and when the mood strikes. I have easy access to my daily bruschetta. In short, I know nothing about what real hunger feels like.
For countless people in developing countries like Sierra Leone, a few slices of Spam would never be unwanted. Not when nearly 900 million people worldwide go to bed hungry each night: a shameful fact that was highlighted last year, when organisations like Christian Aid, CAFOD and Tearfund launched the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign demanding action on global hunger.
Sadly, food poverty isn’t just a developing world problem. The past year or so has seen an unprecedented rise in the number of foodbanks across Britain, many run by church-based groups. Church Action on Poverty – who recently reminded us that ‘Britain isn’t eating’ – has estimated that some 500,000 people now rely on food aid. To put it in perspective, that figure was 41,000 in 2010. And the demand is predicted to grow in 2014.
So where does that leave me and my unwanted Spam? Should I pop my leftovers in a padded envelope and send them across the city to families struggling to survive in the slums of Freetown? Perhaps not (and Christian Aid Collective’s recent spoof campaign explains why).
What I could do, however, is support organisations that are working to tackle the structural causes of global hunger – problems such as land grabs, or the corporate tax dodging that deprives poor countries of US$160 billion a year. I could donate non-perishable items, or my time, to a foodbank. I could try to reduce my food waste.
And the next time I’m spammed at breakfast time, I should definitely resist the urge to get out my smartphone. Instead, I’ll try to be more grateful at the precious food I’ve been given.
The gift of Spam: now there’s a thought worth tweeting.