AT LAST, someone has decided to kickstart a policy debate about food. And no, I’m not referring to the Scottish Conservatives who consider land reform a threat to food security. I’m not sure we should worry about seeing the Duke of Buccleuch queueing at a foodbank anytime soon.

Yet, more and more people are having to do so. The rise in foodbank use has been exponential in recent times, with thousands of people living in one of the world’s richest nations suffering food poverty. They are not statistics, but families who cannot afford to feed themselves because their benefits have been cut, their meagre earnings have run out or predatory debt collectors have cleaned them out. All three of these main reasons why people have to ask for free food speak to a deep malaise in our economy and society.

And even though I contribute regularly to foodbankscollections – I always give tampons and sanitary towels, knowing from past experience that these essential items become a luxury for women on very low incomes –

I do so with reluctance. Because I really do not like the model practised by the likes of the Trussell Trust, nor do I like how this model has insinuates itself into our communities and collective conscience. So bravo, Church of Scotland, for calling for a discussion on how to turn food poverty into food justice, while subtly suggesting that the current approaches might be wrong.

My main problem with the foodbank model is its “them and us” premise. People who need basic support are not treated as individuals with rights not to be hungry, to be clean and well fed, but as recipients who must submit to the indignity of assessment, with paid officials poring over the circumstances which brought them to this sorry pass, determining if they are deserving or not of access to this resource. Put simply, foodbanks reinforce that some of us currently are citizens, others are supplicants. And it brings me out in hives.

Defenders rely on the accountability excuse, of the need to demonstrate value to the taxpayer, for how we spend the public pound. But the taxpayers’ main role in foodbanks is as donors; it is providers like the Trussell Trust who have insisted upon the involvement of public agencies in order to manage – and indeed, ration – access. Whether the pound funding foodbanks is public or not, who decided that in order to eat, you had to justify your need?

Apparently, there are some who might abuse the availability of free food. Who are these people? I know no one who can afford to feed themselves and their household who thinks it would be a swell idea to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get a yellow slip giving them a bag of tins and pasta. But I know of some who might benefit from that same occasional bagful of staples who would not humiliate themselves by seeking help, considering the process demeaning and stigmatising.

And while foodbanks provide an immediate, necessary, short-term fix, they are not a long-term solution. They reinforce the injustice and unfairness inherent in an economic and welfare system that results in some people not having enough money to feed themselves properly.

So yes, we need food justice. In fact, we need to work out what that actually means and we might want to start with a debate which considers our whole relationship with food. If we want to be a country where everyone not only has the right to eat healthily but has the means by which to enjoy that right, then we need a fundamental shift in attitudes to what and how we eat, how we regulate the production and provision of food and how we behave as individuals and communities.

For starters, there are alternatives to foodbanks, not least community food projects. But creating the means by which these flourish requires bold, radical action. What if we were to forego the straitjacket of self-appointed accountability and handed resources currently going into foodbanks to community groups to see what happens? Most communities would willingly take responsibility for feeding themselves if given the chance, and access to the resources and assets that would allow them to. Most of us live surrounded by kitchen facilities in schools, day and community centres which spend most of their time locked up. Yet, these facilities could be used by all to create community food kitchens, in which friends, families and neighbours come together to prepare, cook and eat shared nutritious meals. Community kitchen movements tend also to become community gardens in which others produce the food that the community then eats. The key is handing over power and control to communities to work out for themselves how and what they are going to do.

Already progressive public agencies are grasping the opportunity presented by our current, dire financial straits to change their status from provider to enabler, but they are still a minority. The public sector needs to learn to trust more and suspect less, to realise and accept that accountability rests with us all universally. We need those with power to share more of it, more often. By applying these values and principles to the debate and to our actions, we could move swiftly from food poverty to food justice, where foodbanks become a thing of our past, not an ever present in our future.