Geraldine Van Bueren
Geraldine Van Bueren

It’s time to enshrine the right to food into law

Food bank (Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash)
Food bank (Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash)

It is ironic that a government can obtain a court order to force feed someone, but a family with insufficient means to eat cannot hold the government to account. This is the reason that René Cassin, the Jewish voice for human rights, has launched its campaign on the rights to food and the Recipe for Rights, so that the right to food can be enshrined into law across the United Kingdom.

Food banks were never intended to be permanent but, as a result of Covid 19, England witnessed an increase in people needing to access them. In Bradford, three times as much food was distributed from 21 sites compared to the pre-Covid use. The Trussell Trust, distributed almost 50% more food parcels in the first six months of last year warning that there is a risk that food parcels are being ‘normalised’.

René Cassin believes that the Jewish community does not wish to see the normalisation of food banks and is establishing the Jewish Food Rights Alliance to gather together the widest range of Jewish groups and synagogues to promote the right to food and to lobby Parliament to ensure that the right to food is as well protected as the right to religious freedom. There needs to be a guaranteed certainty that no one will have to face hunger again. As the government system of furloughs ends, this task is becoming even more urgent.

Food is a unifying force in the Judaism – the symbol of generous hospitality. Food also performs a central role in both the Jewish calendar and in religious symbolism: from the Shabbat challah and wine to matzah and charoset during Seder.  For Jews food is central as a means of life and as an expression of Jewish resilience and continuity. This centrality also reflects the number of references to food in the bible. The many biblical texts on the right to food include Moses’ invitation to break bread in Exodus and the order to set food aside for others in Numbers.

The Jewish human rights lawyer René Cassin played an instrumental role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which does enshrine a right to food as part of its protection of the right to an adequate standard of living.

Many countries from Brazil to South African regard the right to food as significant as the right to free speech. Both are protected in a growing number of democratic Bills of Rights. However, the UK’s Human Rights Act omits any reference to a right to adequate and nutritious food, even though the United Kingdom is legally bound by treaty to create a right to food.

The United Kingdom is party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and therefore is legally bound to create a right to food, but successive governments of all political persuasions have failed to so. It is now time to fulfil our legal obligations.

Were a right to food to become a part of UK law then parents will not have to choose between food and electricity; the food will be nutritious rather than the food banks’ long life and tinned provisions. It is a Recipe for Rights, which all strands of Judaism can support.

Nor is the right to food a radical departure for England. Often overlooked is that the Magna Carta had a younger sister; Carta de Foresta 1217 and this created, in medieval terms, a right to food and water. This is a part of our forgotten history, which the Jewish Right to Food Alliance will be helping to reclaim.

The United Nations regards the right to food and food security as complementary governmental legal obligations. The Jewish Right to Food Alliance will argue that the right to food for all is essential for individual human dignity and for the dignity of the entire community.

René Cassin and the Alliance will be supporting the Trussell Trust and Sustain to enshrine a right to food and a sustainable environmentally friendly food policy.




About the Author
Professor Emerita Geraldine Van Bueren QC is the convenor of the Jewish Right to Food Alliance. She is an Honorary Senior Fellow the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Visiting Fellow Kellogg College, Oxford and a member of Doughty Street Chambers.