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Home » Features, Planet Issue

Planet Issue: Food for Thought, Re-using what can Still be Eaten

Submitted by on March 5, 2013 – 2:53 pmNo Comment

Food Cyclists at work.

The UK is one of the richest countries in the world, but there are still massive issues of food waste and poverty. According to FoodCycle an estimated four million people are affected by food poverty in the UK.

Inspired by an American campus kitchen project, Foodcycle is a charity tackles food waste, and food poverty in the UK.This is done through using spare kitchen space, and volunteers. They create meals reclaiming surplus foods donated by food retailers. Those that volunteer are provided with opportunities to learn new skills, when working at FoodCycle’s distribution hubs.

Foodcycle estimates 400,000 tonnes of surplus food can be reclaimed each year from the food retailer industry, and
made into healthy and nutritious meals. The amount of wasted food can help challenge Britain’s growing poverty problem.

Steven Hawkes, Communications and Fundraising Officer explains what food poverty is. He said: “It’s the lack of money, knowledge and access to healthy and nutritious food. Also, people may not have healthy eating outlets in their area just off-licenses. That’s food poverty.”

Working with The Trussell Trust, the charity has created relationships with food retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Budgens and Waitrose, as well as farmer’s markets to provide unused and excess food. Which  is then created into meals by volunteers, and distributed at Foodcycle’s hubs, or sold at their community café (in Bow, East London) at subsidised prices.

FoodCycle has 14 hubs operating and one currently in development in Brixton. Their community café enables people to develop new skills, by providing them with access to an employment programme. The charity is funded mainly through trusts and foundations, but wants to expand in the future.Hawkes says: “The charity is relatively new it’s been around three to four years. We want to become more independent and sustainable from the public by building corporate relationships.”

The charity aims to bring about positive change in local communities through using food, and unused kitchen spaces across the UK. FoodCycle works with asylum seekers, the elderly and those at risk of social isolation. A partnership has been formed with Mind, the mental health charity.

With the tonnes of food waste generated each year not only does it cost business and consumers money, but it also causes environmental damage. By tackling food waste it could really help make a difference to the environment.

According to the Guardian, food banks have become one of the fastest growing charitable industries in the UK. With recent reforms to the welfare system, and cuts in public spending it is no coincidence. More and more people, especially those from low-income households, are becoming dependent on food banks.

Councillor Chris Steward caused an upset last January when he was quoted in York Press as having said: “We have lots of poor people, but living standards have surged over the years. There is certainly no need for food banks; no-one in the UK is starving and I think food banks insult the one billion in the world that go to bed hungry every day and ignore the fact a child dies of hunger every three seconds.”

Later on in February he explained thsi comment  further saying: “The comment was in the context of the UK versus the third world, in this country there are certainly many people hungry ,for whatever reason, but it’s not a battle to survive like it is in the 3rd World where a child dies of hunger every three seconds.”

The Tory Councillor Cllr Steward said: “Budgeting is a key issue schools and government agencies offer virtually no help with and should do lots more, however I accept poor budgeting is only one of the many factors that some people may go to food banks and not the biggest.”

The government has tried to tackle food poverty by identifying groups and communities, through setting up educational campaigns. Campaigns like Love Food Hate Waste have been set up by the government to raise awareness, and educate people about food waste, and sustainability. It encourages people to make changes to their lives that could not only help them save money, but also help the environment.

There is a law on the condition of food that is donated by food retailers. Steven says: “There are laws on what’s passed on [to charities]. [For example] illegal stuff is food taken past their use-by date. We usually take fresh fruit and veg, nothing past [the date of expiration].”

But there have not been any major changes in law to encourage food retailers to donate surplus foods. The UK also does
not have any law prohibiting food retailers from throwing away food, unlike in the US where they have a Samaritan Law ,the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act 1996, which encourages food donations to community groups and non-profit organisations, to help those in need. The law means foods that are past their sell-by date can be donated without any legal reprisals.

As a result of it has led to the birth of Freeganism. This  is where people forage instead of buying food. They reclaim food waste,  anything thrown away by businesses and supermarkets, to feed themselves.

Steven believes the Freeganism movement is as a result of restrictions in the food donation laws. He says: “Freeganism is
a symptom of the wider problem of food waste.We have Freeganism because of the amount of food waste. I understand why it exists, but if more was done [to tackle food waste and food poverty] there wouldn’t be this problem.”

The Labour party has recently announced plans for a zero food waste policy if they win at the next election and that food waste should  not to be taken to the landfill.

It is clear that food waste has become a global issue, as more campaigns are launched. The only hope now is that the government does more to challenge the poverty that is going on in the UK.

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