A Sustainable Food Partnership for Southampton – the organisers must be the toast of the town!
Well it’s been a great month all round for advocates of sustainable food in the city. Dangerous Ideas ran an inspiring event on Food Justice which led to the beginnings of the Southampton Sustainable Food Partnership (SSFP). It’s early days but if you’d like to know more or be part of this new movement, info is available here. The aim is to bring together individuals and organisations interested in food justice across the city. The hope is that key public sector organisations (Southampton City Council, Southampton’s Universities) together with non-profit companies, charities, local food traders and community groups will all want to play a role in transforming our local food system. Let’s join the ranks of other Sustainable Food Cities in the UK!
One of the key partners in this new network is Curb, the Southampton food waste campaign. In March it celebrated its first year in business. It runs pop-up cafés, food boutiques, street food stalls and catering for events, all on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis. The organisers are also working on a Feeding the 5000 event on June 18th, 11am-3pm in Guildhall Square. This will be exactly what it says on the tin. Volunteers needed!
A food waste campaign? So they’re keen on composting?
Curb’s work is mainly focused on diverting surplus food – stuff that is still edible but destined for landfill. See if you can swallow this statistic: between farm and fork 89 million tonnes of food is wasted across the EU each year – the equivalent of two billion wheelie bins full of food! The UK is the worst offender with £19 billion worth of food going straight into the bin.
What has food waste got to do with climate change?
This isn’t just wasted food, but wasted money, water and energy. Fantastic amounts of the world’s resources are involved in food production: 40% of the land, 70% of its freshwater supplies and 30% of our energy. In 2010 the carbon footprint of all the wasted food around the world was more than twice that from all road transport in the United States. As for the UK, 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food and drink. This is partly because food scraps make up 19% of waste in landfills – it rots and produces methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.
You may not be able to stomach this either – the project ‘One Third’ by fine art photographer Klaus Pichler is artistic images of rotting food combined with research on each item’s history. His work was inspired by a UN report which found that between 30% and 50% of all the food produced around the world is simply not eaten. The losses amount to 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy and 35% for fish.
Those are extraordinary statistics. Why is this happening?
Food is lost between the producers and our plates for a number of reasons. Almost a third is discarded by farms as either they have to produce more than is required to meet ‘forecast orders’ from supermarkets and then have to discard the surplus or leave it rotting in the fields; or the fruit and veg does not meet exacting cosmetic standards set by the big food retailers.
Are we really that averse to knobbly parsnips?
It doesn’t seem so. Research by Asda has shown that 65 per cent of people would buy ‘imperfect’ fruit and veg, and shoppers don’t seem to be able to get enough of their ‘wonky veg’ boxes. Other retailers are now getting in on the act too. However, celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall thinks that this is partly to do with poor harvests, when it becomes more acceptable to sell less than perfect specimens.
In fact, why do carrots, apples or potatoes need to be described in such negative terms at all? There are some lovely Instagram feeds celebrating ‘ugly’ produce – take a look and let us know what you think! Imperfect fruit UglyFruitAndVeg
Mountains of waste created by supermarket giants – where’s Jack to cut down the beanstalk?
You can actually help by signing up to the Stop the Rot campaign which is pushing for UK businesses to sign up to a 10 year agreement to reduce food waste.
“Someone is paying for this food waste, whether it be you, the person who cannot afford to eat, the environment, or the supermarkets’ suppliers.”
Launched on 15th March, Courtauld 2025 sets a target of a 20% reduction in waste across the food system by 2025. However, many people think this does not go far enough, particularly as it is a voluntary scheme. Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP who introduced the Food Waste (Reduction) Bill 2016, is keen on seeing much tougher targets (such as a 30% reduction against a 2016 baseline) as well as requiring supermarkets to report exactly how much food they are responsible for wasting.
It must be illegal for retailers to throw away all this food?
You’d think so, but although the Bill was introduced to the House of Commons last September it is struggling make headway, due to objections by the Government. It’s hoped it will be taken up as a Private Member’s Bill in the new parliamentary session.
So Government policy is: ‘Let them eat cake’?
There may be global trends in food, but in relation to regulations on food waste, we are somewhat behind the curve. The UK could be leading the way and be the elBulli of the global food waste campaign. But instead, we are happy with the legal equivalent of a supermarket ready meal. In both Belgium and France there is legislation which requires supermarkets to donate surplus food to charity, combined with education about food waste.
Can’t surplus food from supermarkets make its way onto plates in this country? That’s one of the ways that Curb sources its food. They receive donations from many sources such as local shops and restaurants but one that often sparks the public imagination is ‘dumpster diving’ or ‘skipping’. This is the practice of taking discarded items from supermarket bins.
The big supermarket chains generate 200,000 tonnes of food waste from their stores each year. This amount of perfectly edible food means that Curb members can go dumpster diving as often as they need to. But over the past 4 years they have seen many bins in the city disappear to inside locations and/or get locked up in cages as the big stores have come under increasing scrutiny for the amount they discard. However, Curb has recently announced it is now in official partnership with Waitrose in Portswood to collect surplus food from the store. Great news!
So food is being binned when people are forced to rely on food banks?
One major problem is that for many organisations, it is actually cheaper to dispose of surplus through anaerobic digestion or animal feed, rather than give it to charities. The Government provides £160 million in subsidies (ironically called ‘Feed In Tariffs’) to anaerobic digestion plants to turn food waste into energy.
At present, charities working on food poverty have to rely on donations rather than having agreements with supermarkets to take surplus food. For example, Southampton’s Basics Bank takes individual donations and weekly collections from Lidl and Sainsbury’s. It looks like this is about to change though as Tesco has just agreed to have all unsold food from its stores sent to charities, by 2017.
This seems laudable but Louiza Hamidi from Curb has a different view:
“I’ve met with lots of food poverty charities who end up in receipt of far too much ‘surplus food’, and then find themselves with not only the conscience of wasting food and the cost in time or labour, but the increased waste management fees and landfill taxes too. These physical and moral costs are the responsibility of the corporation, and should not be simply transferred to charities. Redistribution of surplus food is a reactive measure, rather than preventative.”
What can I do about all this waste? You can take a look at your own food buying and binning habits. Did you know that from our homes we throw away more food than we do packaging? In the UK this amounts to 7 million tonnes of food each year, half of which is still edible when we put it in the bin. Most often it’s fresh fruit and veg, salad and bread and foodstuffs that are past their ‘best before’ date.
Well I always thought “if in doubt, throw it out”
Many of us don’t realise the difference between ‘best before’, ‘sell by’, and ‘use by’ dates on food. The important one is ‘use by’ which is usually found on highly perishable food such as meat and fish, and tells you when food becomes dangerous to eat. The other dates are just indicators of quality and let supermarkets know when it’s time to rotate their stock.
OK, food waste is something I can get my teeth into, but I need a few tips
There are tons of ideas on how to love your leftovers and plan your meals at Love Food Hate Waste as well as plenty of inspiring blogs such as ‘Wonky Veg’. Closer to home look out for Curb’s first food boutique at West Quay (May 16 or 17, 9am-4pm)! You could also think about sharing some of your extra food with your friends and neighbours?
There must be an app for that?
Yes, there is! Olio is a bit like Freecycle but for food.
So, what is the solution to food waste? We have got so used to an over-abundance of food in the shops that most of us can’t really imagine ever going hungry or there being such an issue as ‘food security’. The supermarkets encourage us to buy more than we need and somehow it has become acceptable for us to throw away perfectly edible food even though we know there are people in our city who are going without.
Perhaps, as Louiza Hamidi believes, we need to reconnect with our food and with the land that it comes from:
“Simply put, when we respect something, we do not waste it.”
Got a taste for more?
Take a look at these documentaries on food waste:
Just Eat It “You’ll never look at your fridge the same way again”
Finally, remember: If life gives you lemons, don’t throw them out, make lemonade!
With huge thanks to Louiza Hamidi at Curb!