• Ian McClellan

Week 49: I will find good.

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

There is a box in the entrance of our local church, for food bank donations. It is a green plastic tub. It does not have a Facebook account, and to my knowledge has never posted an Instagram story.

We visit it once a week when we can. Over the Spring and Summer, it was a fun part of an afternoon, to head over there as our assigned exercise window of the day and play a few games on the way.

We throw a few tins from our store cupboard periodically in the box, and if we’re at a local store we hunt out some of the staples that food banks consistently need. If you’ve been following Project Planetwise, it was part of a change we made in week 25, and is one that we are very proud to have been able to keep up with a large degree of consistency.

One afternoon was even the fabled day that we left the house for the 100 yard trip in bright sunshine, only to be caught in a massive hailstorm on the way back. It was Leo’s first experience of a hailstorm, and he was genuinely traumatised for several hours by the belief that despite being able to see our garden gate, we would never get home. It is a memory that makes me smile every time I walk past the tree that we sheltered under. Thankfully, the trauma passed and it also makes him smile too.

I visited the green plastic tub this morning, and it was a bit more full than usual, which filled me with joy. Our increased desire for good, in the run up to Christmas, is a wonderful thing. I have to also admit that I felt a bit of self-congratulation. Maybe even a bit smug that it’s something we’ve been doing all year.

Not proud. Smug.

What right do I have to feel like that?

I made me wonder about motivation. Our contribution to the food bank is small, maybe less than £5 per week. In some ways the trip to the food bank began as a transaction in self-interest, because it got us out of the house for a little while and provided an hour of distraction for a 4-year-old in a pandemic. It is making a difference for sure, but tossing a few items in a collection is the easy bit.

It got me wondering about how much I do in my life, that I believe is selfless and good, but is done with a self-interested bias. And how much do we do in life, because we know what’s in it for us? When did it only start counting, when it was on display? If a tree falls outside of social media, does it make a sound?

Would I have visited the food bank as much if we were not locked down, and I didn’t have five-hours of unexpected childcare in the afternoon? Do I give a thought to the bigger picture, when making the donation or does it just makes me feel good and gives a bit of moral salve to feel like the kind of person who donates to food banks? Was I tempted to post my participation in a donation on social media, to prove I was ‘winning Christmas’?

Is even referring to it as a ‘food bank’ placing an automatic saviour complex on what I am doing, by suggesting that somehow this is the deposit into an account that is controlled by the rich and distributed to the poor? Should it not just be a food co-operative?

Plus. The ones who are doing the real good, the selfless good, are those that leave no trace of self-congratulation. The people who thought about putting the tub there in the first place. Those who regularly drive it the five miles to the nearest collection point, and bring it back empty. Those at the collection point, who volunteer to organise and distribute the donations. Those who give up their time, without a transaction of emotional or economic gain in mind, but instead the desire to nourish their soul by knowing they have toiled on behalf of others.

There are individuals doing good like this, every day.

I just wonder if there is more we can do, to shine a light on good. To do it consistently and without self-interest. That we can go out, and see people who are doing good things. Really see them.

So this week, I will try to begin to see the good.

It also does not mean finding the good simply in selfless individuals, it means everywhere. It means finding good where we are told there is bad. And especially finding good where it is not expected.

To explain what I mean, here is a small riff on supermarkets.

It is related in the end to food collections and to the planet, and so please bear with me.

Supermarkets have especially have become one of the go-to villains of our consumption society. By supermarkets I also mean large chain stores as a generalisation. It is a broad term, so let’s say I am talking about the familiar stores we see on our high streets and out-of-town sites, operated by shareholders and through corporate structures, rather than independent stores or those who operate with models that disrupt this model.

The outrage levelled at supermarkets, include sourcing practices, packaging, marketing, pricing, waste, and the relentless march of consumerism and commoditisation.

I have personally written about food waste in week 19, food commoditisation in week 8. Since around around 1998, I have actively boycotted one particular large supermarket chain in the UK, based on my perception and direct experience of their treatment of suppliers.

I have some very strong opinions about plastic waste that I’ve written about in week 3 and about how refill shops should be part of our routines in week 14.

So whilst I do not disagree that large corporations such as supermarkets need to lead change rather than resist or ignore it, I also have a suspicion that when we lambast supermarkets or other corporations, that we forget they consist of individuals, like us.

And that we somehow ignore this important fact because we get caught in the trap of believing the generalisation. The generalisation that all supermarkets from top to bottom are wasteful, are greedy, or are downright evil. So instead of thinking of them as faceless wholes, how about we think about them as dysfunctional families instead. Flawed, eccentric, complicated, contradictory, and at times confused of their true identity. Generous and selfish. Purposeful and soulless.

But I guess that is the trouble with generalisations. The longer we use a generalisation as a shortcut, the more likely we are likely to ignore or fill in the blanks and it becomes a narrative. And then the longer it remains a narrative, the more likely it is to be seen as an absolute fact.

The trouble with this is that supermarkets, just like dysfunctional families, are not entirely evil. And if you are looking for good in supermarkets, then you can look no further than the work that many supermarkets carry out in the redistribution of food.

I am sure there are a thousand arguments about how this pales into insignificance against the other crimes that supermarkets commit. But remember, this is a dysfunctional family, and so it doesn’t matter what Auntie Pat is doing somewhere else, or what Cousin Steve did yesterday. In the moment, right now, supermarkets are doing a lot of good and offer a lot of help for us to redistribute food. They do this directly through schemes such as Fareshare, but also in ways which we can recognise and way we can participate in.

But instead of me offering further opinion, let me instead practice what I have promised, and pass along some good.

If you are interested in finding out the nearest food bank to you, the majority of our UK network can be found by entering your postcode into the Trussell Trust or the Independent Food Aid Network sites.

You can also find a lot of information on these sites and on social media about what is needed right now, because it is sometimes not what you expect. There is a also good chance that your local church, or your local convenience store may also take donations, which means the nearest food bank could just be a stroll away. Maybe there are some I have missed, that can be found if you search on social media for your nearest town and ‘food bank’. The additional benefit that social media feeds give, is that they may also tell you what is running low locally each week.

If you are not able to visit a food bank right now, and you are able to safely visit a supermarket, then there are hundreds of collection points all over the country. These can be found in many of the larger Tesco stores, in most Waitrose stores, as well as trolley collection points and in other ways to help in Asda stores. In Morrisons, you can add a pre-packed bag of groceries to your shopping, which is added to your bill at the check out, collected by volunteers and taken to the local food bank.

If you do not have a food bank near you, and you cannot visit a supermarket, there are other ways to donate. Right now, you can purchase e-vouchers at Morrisons for your local food bank here, or you can text a donation via the Asda website. Sainsburys have also added an option to donate to their online shopping service.

This is something we can all do right now and we can do it because it is Christmas, but in the end cannot just be a 'right now' activity. The pressure on food is not going to go away, and long after many of us might have returned to some kind of normality, many will not. This needs to become an 'and' in our lives. We need to donate now, and in the future. We need to audit our cupboards now, and every month or few months. We need to keep dropping an extra item in our shopping baskets now, and continue to do it when we can.

If you are not convinced by my support of supermarkets then let me widen it a bit more, and bring it back to generalisations, and to the dysfunctional family.

If we can accept that all corporations, empires, conglomerates, are made up of individuals, then it gives us hope. And it gives us opportunity. Because, the one thing that individuals can do, is change.

It takes feedback, proof, and new habits. But they can change.

But they will not change, if we keep finding the bad all the time. They will not change if all that happens is that the good is written off in the generalisations of the bad. It is not as simple as that, and it is debilitating for individuals who are within these organisations and who are doing good to simply hear the bad. It does not make those who are doing good, believe they are being heard. We instead need to show we are on the side of good, wherever it can be found.

Finding good, is a practice that can also make us pause for a moment before we do something. And ask ourselves why we are doing it? We cannot also truly make change, if we only do it because there is something in it for us. We need to always ask ourselves if we are doing something to be on display, and be honest with ourselves about this. Think whether our posture is to do good, or because it looks good.

We all know that things that look good, don’t always last.

But things that are good, including our actions, can leave an imprint forever.

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