Regular readers will know that this column is usually a celebration of food and drink, and that the pleasures of the table are very high up on my personal list of priorities.  

It is mainly about how taking the time and effort to transform the wonderful ingredients with which this county is blessed into simple and nutritious meals, and above all taking the time to share those meals with friends and family, is one of the greatest ways of finding happiness.

So it is with a mixture of sadness and anger that I find myself writing this week’s contribution immediately after the publication by this newspaper of a shocking report which shows that Norfolk and Waveney has the highest rate of malnutrition in the country, with one in 15 people unable to afford enough of the right food to live a healthy life.

This just three weeks after The Guardian reported that some children at a Norwich infant school are so malnourished that they have teeth falling out and bowed legs, and that shockingly, some even resort to eating sand because they are so hungry.

Take a moment to reflect on that.  This is not some Dickensian tale of woe, but real, grinding poverty right here, in 21st century Norwich.  Right in the heart of a county which produces close to ten per cent of the nation’s food.

If that doesn’t make you seethe with anger, then you have no heart.

And if you are one of those smug, well-fed keyboard warriors who believe that such a situation is not your problem, you really don’t understand how society works – or perhaps, like Margaret Thatcher, you believe that there is no such thing as society (and yes, she did say it, in a Woman’s Own interview in 1987).

Quite apart from the obvious moral imperative that no child should go hungry, the fact is that malnourished children cannot learn properly, which means they will always be at a disadvantage.  They are less likely to be able to find employment to support themselves in later life, and they are more likely to become ill and need treatment from the NHS.

The report finds that hunger costs the NHS a staggering £22.6 billion a year, with health boards in this part of the country spending more than a fifth of their total budget either treating the ill effects of malnutrition or managing it.

On a purely economic basis, wouldn’t it be better to spend money preventing children going hungry than to spend it trying to deal with the consequences?  You know, prevention being better than cure and all that.

In a modern, supposedly rich country (although it is more accurate to say that nowadays, Britain is a poor country with rich people in it), it is simply unacceptable that anyone should not have enough to eat.

Less than 50 years ago, Britain was the most equal country in the developed world.  Today we are second only to the US when it comes to inequality, with a selfish, ‘I’m alright, Jack’ attitude all too prevalent – as evidenced by those who would rather further impoverish the public purse by handing out inheritance tax breaks to the richest four per cent, instead of spending that money shoring up our creaking public services.

In the short-term we will need to see more free school meals, increased investment in foodbanks and food hubs, and improved affordability of food.  But this is treating the symptoms, not the disease.  

We will only remove this scandalous stain on our country when we achieve a fairer, more equitable society where everyone can afford the basics of life: a home, warm clothes and food on the table.

Until that happens, there is nothing to be proud of when it comes to being British.  We should hang our heads in shame.