Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

The Reality Of Algarve Food Banks

Why complain that people are solving hunger with food banks?

This is about what’s happening in the next town down the road from here, in Faro. Which does produce a certain amount of interest. For they’re talking about how the absence of tourists means that poverty is rife and so on. Which is true, certainly to an extent. However, Faro isn’t quite the right place to be detailing that as while it obviously has some tourism that’s not really what the place is about. It’s the regional – provincial – capital and that always provides a certain backbone to an economy what with government paycheques and all that.

Outside my window in Albufeira is rather more ground zero of the absence of tourists. But then the airport is in Faro so how far do we think The Guardian’s reporter is going to travel? 30 km or not?

There’s a significant error in reasoning though:

The Algarve bore the brunt of the losses: in February, the number of people registered at the regions’s job centres was up 70% on the previous year. Without income, many families found themselves dependent on charity.

The scale of their plight becomes painfully clear at the Algarve food bank, where forklift trucks beep as they unload cases of cucumbers and potatoes from a large truck. Men in yellow vests weigh the goods while a group of women, surrounded by ceiling-tall piles of milk and rice, prepare baskets for distribution. The food they gather will help feed 30,000 families.

“Before the pandemic, we distributed around 20 to 25 tonnes in food baskets,” says Nuno Cabrita Alves, the food bank’s founder and president. “Now, in May, we’re distributing 92 tonnes of food. This has never happened before.”

The claim there is – their plight – that this is a measure of demand. Nope, it ain’t. It’s a measure of supply.

Sure and I think food banks are a wondrous thing. And I agree entirely that we don’t want folks or kiddies to go hungry. I’ll also agree that times are indeed hard here and that many are in significant want. However, we do need to remember what is a credit, what a debit, what a cost and a benefit, what is supply and what is demand.

Even in the good times could we get shot of 92 tonnes a day of good fresh food? For free?


So, being able to get shot of 92 tonnes a day of good fresh food, for free, is not evidence of a rise in demand. It’s evidence of a rise in supply, that we’ve got 92 tonnes a day of good fresh food to give away for free.

Yes, I even agree that there has been a rise in demand. Times really are tough out there. But it’s still true that a rise in supply is a rise in supply.

The importance of this for our own domestic politics is that the rise of food banks in the UK is not evidence of the welfare system getting worse at distributing money, nor of benefits becoming more measly, of the Tories grinding the faces of the poor etc. It’s that food banks are a new technology, introduced from the US in about 2004, and we now have greater supply of what we always could have given away.

Again, no, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t poor people out there who have that demand. As I keep saying I’m just fine with the good work being done. But that rise in supply is that we’re getting better at meeting extant demand, not that demand has risen.

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3 years ago

Dunno about that, at least in Oz. The Food Bank I am associated with has seen demand increase 100% while supply has dropped significantly, despite the number of supermarkets donating increasing. All this during the best harvest season anyone local can remember and one of the best on record. I suspect a more relevant assessment of the food situation would be measuring food wastage, ie dumping or divertion to animal feed.

3 years ago

Where I live is an entry point for cruise ships to New Zealand. The port continues to function with its container side albeit at a reduced level.Being a pensioner I am not dependent on the cruise ship trade but personally I am enjoying the luxury of not having thousands of trippers being landed every other day and having to struggle my way through the heavy traffic caused by them. When lockdown began some of the local shops were affected but most seem to have come back in some way. Food banks here seem busier but it seems it is mostly… Read more »

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