As cost of living rises, we must keep all Israelis fed - opinion

Asked if the food aid agencies were exacerbating the problem of food insecurity by giving fish instead of rods, I almost lost it because only those who have never struggled for food could ask this.

 LEKET ISRAEL provides hot meals.  (photo credit: AMIR YAKOBY)
LEKET ISRAEL provides hot meals.
(photo credit: AMIR YAKOBY)

Last year, Tel Aviv received the dubious honor of being named the most expensive city in the world. Up until a few days ago, the price of gas was $9.00 p/gallon (NIS 29.6/3.8 liters) and forget about buying real estate in Israel, especially if you are a young couple. The cost of living is rising in Israel and everywhere around the globe. This is all in the news and in discussion both in Israel and in other countries. What they’re not discussing is the welfare of those that are currently struggling and who will certainly be struggling even more, as prices continue to rise.

I recently had a call with the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry, and they explained to me that there is a new layer to this already horrible situation: elections. As of September 1, until a new government is formed, no new programs will be created. Ministers across all parties are prohibited from approving any new expenses out of concern that they will use public funds to advance themselves and their parties during the election season and during the formulation of a new government.

On the one hand, yes, it’s very reasonable, correct? But on the other hand, the earliest a government can be formed is December 2022 and Israel does not have a great track record of forming governments lately.

So, yes, almost everyone will suffer to some degree from the rising prices and the elections, but there are many that will suffer a lot more than others, and this time the government’s hands will be tied. This is the sad truth and the proof that no one sees these invisible people in Israel.

A few days ago, I was interviewed by academics regarding food security and the role of Leket Israel, The National Food Bank, in this situation. One of the questions they asked me was if I believed that the food aid agencies in Israel were exacerbating the problem of food insecurity by giving fish instead of rods. Truthfully, I almost lost it because only people who have never suffered from food insecurity or worked with people who suffer from food insecurity could ask such a question.

 Israelis protest against the soaring housing prices in Tel Aviv and cost of living, on July 2, 2022. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Israelis protest against the soaring housing prices in Tel Aviv and cost of living, on July 2, 2022. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

I CALMLY explained that while, yes, I agree that it is the government’s responsibility to take care of those less fortunate, the government hasn’t been doing it for the last 74 years, as the problem is so significant (20% of the population in Israel experiences some form of food insecurity) that by now no one wants to touch this issue with a 10-foot pole. It is, therefore, left to those of us, like Leket Israel, who have been working diligently in this field for the past 20 years.

Additionally, and it pains me to say this, there is no benefit for the politicians to address the issue of food insecurity in this election season. Achieving food security is an arduous process, and in the capitalistic world in which we live, there will never be 100% food security, so why should lawmakers invest their time on an issue that will not bring immediate results?

Even imperfection can be improved upon

Reaching 100% food security might be a pipe dream, but living in a country with a 20% food insecure population is unnecessary. There are solutions available to help these people rise out of their situations. Leket Israel preaches food rescue because we believe that it can mitigate this issue very efficiently by using the leverage we offer.

For every $1 (NIS 3.3) invested in Leket Israel, we produce at least $4 (NIS 13.2) worth of food. We are constantly looking for new ways to improve our operations. Last year, Leket Israel developed a soup program, creating fresh frozen soups from our surplus of the rescued vegetables, amounting to 10,000 pints (5,683 liters) every week. Now, I have just signed an agreement with an NPO that will code software for Leket Israel, developing a software program that will utilize satellites to find ripe fields in time for Leket Israel to harvest (all pro-bono). And tomorrow? We always have something new in the works.

Leket Israel is committed to doing more to rescue more food in order to alleviate the immediate struggle of those in need of food support. We will be there whether there is a government or not, always for the benefit of those who need it most.

Leket Israel – the National Food Bank, rescues fresh, nutritious produce from farmers and packing houses, and hot cooked meals from hotels, corporate cafeterias and IDF army bases. In 2021, Leket Israel rescued 25,000 tons of fruit and vegetables, and 1.7 million meals and distributed it through a network of 263 NPOs, feeding 223,000 Israelis in need, each week.

The writer is the CEO of Leket Israel. For more information, visit: www.leket.org.