Professor Liz Dowler, an expert in food poverty and social policy at the University of Warwick, said Trussell Trust figures showed that their food bank network fed 60,000 people in 2011, while this year they had already helped 350,000 individuals in need.
“This is terrible in one of the richest countries in the world,” Dowler said.
“This is the second meeting I've attended about food poverty this week and I'll be at another one tomorrow – that's nothing to be proud of, but at least we are talking about it,” she told a ‘Beating the Nutrition Recession - Tackling Food Poverty’ conference in central London this week.
She said the problem was compounded by a lack of information - not least about how current welfare cuts were affecting the number of people in food poverty.
While there are several ways of defining and quantifying food poverty, Dowler said it was more important that someone in Government took responsibility for dealing with it than arguing about thresholds.
“It doesn't matter how you define it...[It is more important] to clarify which sector of Government has responsibility for it, can be accounted for it and who loses their job if the numbers go up - and [now] it's nobody.
“It is everybody's problem but no-one's responsibility - it doesn't sit well in terms of Government,” she said.
Dowler echoed the key demand made by Oxfam in its ‘Walking the Breadline’ report, published last week, which called for a parliamentary inquiry into the drivers and extent of food poverty in order to explore the complexities of the issue - not least because there are significant gaps in knowledge about food and nutrition inequalities.
“When I look at the huge amount of good quality research about health inequalities both globally and nationally, I find it really depressing how little work is done on nutrition and food inequalities in comparison," she told attendees at the event, organised by Government Knowledge.
"There is nothing like the range of reports or data sets," she said. "I'm usually talking about what's not available. I don't understand why that is, because everybody needs to eat."
Dowler and several other delegates also called for better monitoring systems to be put in place to keep tabs on exactly where food poverty was occurring.
“A lot of the data not driven down to things like social class like it was 10 years ago,” she said. “Now we have to apply for raw data and do the analysis ourselves.”
A growing area where more information was needed, she added, was around people who were heavily in debt.
These people might not fall under a category of food poverty because of their income, but expensive mortgages combined with falling incomes in real terms alongside rising food prices meant they couldn't cope," she added.
“There is a whole new tranche of people being affected, yet we have little information about it,” she added.
See FoodManufacture.co.uk next week for a podcast with Kevin Cheung, ceo of community food organisation FoodCycle, to hear why he believes manufacturers and retailers should use surplus stock for community good, instead of potential revenue streams such as anaerobic digestion.