Food Waste Footprint: Freegans, FoodCyle, and Me

How can we limit the 15 million tonnes of food wasted a year in the UK?

According to a recent survey carried out by supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, an annual average of £700 per household remains inaccessible as food waste – a disturbingly substantial amount which is near enough 3 months’ worth of meals for an average UK family.  Though a known sceptic of all-things statistics in the mainstream media, the figures presented merely highlights a growing problem in the country which I have encountered on a near-daily basis.

Having worked at the food and hospitality industry as a “side hustle” during my now-defunct university life, I am familiar with some of the sector’s stupidly strict rules and regulations regarding food waste.  In the past six years of my working life, I have witnessed blocks of perfectly perishable cheese thrown away, plates of beautifully-decorated dishes scraped straight into rubbish minutes after its preparation, and cake-laden bin bags resulting from the rigidity of the system.  All of which, may I add, stems from fears that giving these for free may encourage stealing.

My interest in a zero food waste lifestyle developed nearly a year ago.  Its cost-effective promise appealed to me at first, suitable for my much-anticipated travel plans for summer as a final year undergrad.  Soon after, the sense of reward and positive environmental impact came flooding in.  I found a cause that engaged me most, and one that I was willing to help enhance my way of living.

Though I was always conscious of food waste – I was brought up not to leave the dinner table unless my plate is clean – I took a further, more holistic approach and found myself with a complete lifestyle overhaul.  I would find unconventional uses for your normcore ingredients and produce; I would opt to shop at my local grocer’s, who packaged everything in brown paper, and charged for any grocery bags you buy from them; I started making revision snacks from roasted butternut squash seeds.

Quick lunch fix using day-old baguette, ripe tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds for a pesto paste.

Furthermore, volunteering with FoodCycle enhanced my desire to commit to living a zero food waste life.  I was exposed to the hardships and real faces of food poverty in the UK.  I saw the vast amount of surplus food from only a handful of supermarkets and grocers in a medium-sized city.  There were kilograms of spotty bananas, cobs and loaves of bread no longer deemed profit-worthy, and, of course, the 30 or so adults who visit the community centre every Wednesday afternoon for a three-course hot lunch and friendly company.  It was overwhelming, eye-opening, and rewarding.

Clearly, the efficient farming and agricultural methods developed and high abundance of GM foods have not tackled a problem faced by more than 20 million people.  Supermarkets and food business giants ought to be at the forefront of the campaign to decrease food poverty in the UK, instead of demonising the hungry individuals scourging through their bins.  What’s more, humble gestures such as donating surplus food regularly to charities and homeless groups should be considered the status quo.

I understand many parties remain standoffish regarding this issue, wanting their million pound backs covered in case a person suffers a nasty side-effect from consuming out-of-date goods.  Surely simple notices or disclaimers will aid businesses with possible legal threats or actions made against them?  However, the choice of consuming or buying surplus products is not even available to willing individuals.

Giving surplus/out-of-date food and consumables to enthusiastic, helpless people should be a risk many are prepared to take, not for publicity purposes, but for pure, unadulterated generosity – a risk which can alleviate members of our society from poverty, hunger and death.

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