New Internationalist

Fancy nosh and raising dosh

cup cake [Related Image]
Daniel Lee under a Creative Commons Licence

Food has always been a powerful resource when raising money. After all, who can resist a sparkly cupcake, or turn down the offer of a freshly baked scone?

In the past, it has also played a part in slightly more offbeat ideas. Granted, a bathtub of beans is pretty boring now, but I bet for a few years it had a big impact. Even coconuts are traditionally involved, despite their shyness.

Now though, as the world becomes increasingly aware of food and all it encompasses –perhaps the word is obsession (I know it applies to me) – it seems the primary vehicle when fundraising. Jumping out of planes, climbing up mountains – these pursuits are admirable indeed, but today nothing seems to present more clearly a token of good will than fanciful cuisine.  

There are now so many considerations for people when pondering what goes on the table. From air miles to sustainability and whether sugar is Fairtrade – food has been about more than simply eating for a long while. It’s a complete lifestyle choice and, as a result, the charity sector is seeing a greater effect.

Moreover, with hunger often a central point of focus when trying to better the world, it seems credible, practical and weirdly nourishing to try to relate in some way. An obvious example is global initiative Live Below the Line, which I documented in more detail here. It allows a degree of understanding, if somewhat diminutive. Importantly, though, at its heart is food and drink, channelling a digestible and tangible way to help provide.

And more traditional setups have had a makeover, too. The basic premise of ‘tea and cake’, which in days gone by featured fold-out tables on village greens, bunting and aprons, all to raise money for run-down church halls, has been amplified.

Take the MacMillan Coffee Morning – it’s a nationwide affair in Britain. People tweet their offerings, document their experiences. Great swathes of caffeine-fuelled bean lovers and bakers raise not just a pot of cash to buy a new bike shed, but contribute to a worldwide issue, a monumental cause. I’m not saying smaller, intimate events aren’t wonderful, by the way – it’s just such larger-scale events usually prompted an idea of bungee jumping or running 200 kilometres. Now, for many, such endeavours have been replaced with more crumpet-based principles.

Another notable happening is the Big Chocolate Tea Party, where during April many pitched in to support The Sick Children’s Trust. It had well-known endorsement from the likes of master chocolatier Paul A Young.

Last year, thousands of people got involved and over £27,000 ($45,000) was raised. This year was expected to collect even more. All by way of a cup of tea and a a slice of Aztec Wonder cake. It’s impressive.

Of course, there’s the more evocative, if even sadder, side of why food seems to hold a greater influence. Escalating food poverty in the Western world is at the forefront of our minds. It’s an issue increasingly hard to ignore or see only on television screens.

It is known to many that food banks are busying the very church halls where happy cake sales used to proudly toast the new bench, or the updated climbing frame. It’s a resounding point of focus.

While trying to feed more has always been a resolve for many, it’s clearly ludicrous that in rich countries such as the US and Britain, people are suffering hunger to a greater extent. The fact that, due to political reasons, operations that would have perhaps worked to support vital projects overseas, or to other developments here, have been given a dose of home-tied desperation.

There’ll always be people running marathons and cycling the length and breadth of countries. Today, though, in both positive and depressing ways, food is inescapable in every section of our lives. We’re trying to be ethical, making sure we buy local; we’re also incorporating this preoccupation more and more into our philanthropy. What’s on our plates, it seems, is reflective of society in many ways.   

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