I recently started working at Fareshare East Midlands as a Development Officer. My role is to work on a project called ‘Feeding Derbyshire’ where Fareshare deliver regular food supplies to groups for a small fee which covers delivery costs. The groups include school breakfast clubs, school holiday programmes, and social eating spaces.
As many of the community groups across Derbyshire run social eating events and it is something I have wanted to learn more about since moving to Sheffield (which is thriving in community food initiatives). I thought this blog was a good opportunity to create a video to find out what social eating is and how it works. So, to find out a bit more I thought what better way than to speak to the volunteers and visitors and try the food for myself.
Being an employee of Fareshare I am aware that I have certain privileges that other researchers may not have had, such as access to member details, warehouse and delivery access, and the trust of others knowing that I’m from Fareshare rather than simply a stranger. While Fareshare understand the video was created for my university course, they will be using the content on their communication platforms so I followed their branding guidelines and used their consent forms etc.
With that in mind, the below video shows a positive outline on what social eating is.
As you can see, social eating has huge benefits for a number of reasons, however there are some criticisms which I would like to outline below-
Criticisms of using surplus food
Fareshare have good connections with the food industry which means they can offer regular supplies of key items (e.g. milk, bread etc.), however many groups are finding that they don’t know what many of the items they’ll be receiving until close to the day of delivery.
Often food items that are received are difficult to put to use – for example a whole pallet of avocadoes (normally an expensive luxury item bought by the middle class) is difficult to redistribute to communities that wouldn’t normally eat them so may end up being disposed of anyway.
Lots of surplus stock is unhealthy items, such as sweets, chocolates, and cakes.
- Short shelf life of many items
This means stock needs to be moved quickly to the right people to ensure it gets used, which uses huge resources.
- Extra supplies mean extra storage
Surplus food tends to arrive in bulk, meaning community groups must have the facilities to be able to store the items correctly.
Surplus food is often used to feed vulnerable groups which leads to questions of whether this is ethical (Caraher, M. et. al, 2016)
- Absolves government from social responsibility
By using the surplus food it doesn’t tackle the core issue that huge quantities of food are being wasted (Caraher, M. et. al, 2016).
Criticisms of social eating
- Eating in groups can affect what we eat
It is known that by eating in groups we tend to eat bigger portions than what we would normally have on our own, and in contrast when trying to impress someone in a social situation we may even eat less than normal (Higgs, S. et. al, 2016). Both of which could affect our health in negative ways.
- The types of food we eat affects our behaviour
Bitter foods and drinks, such as dark chocolate and coffee, can result in individuals having hostile behaviours towards others while sweet foods make individuals feel more romantic (Spence, C., 2016).
A big barrier to social eating spaces is whether people have the ability to get to the venues where they’re being held (Boyer, K. et al, 2016). Physical or monetary barriers can hinder this, especially in rural areas where there is less transport available.
It could be debated for hours about whether it’s ethical to use surplus food for the vulnerable, however social eating spaces welcome people from all backgrounds which helps to reduce the stigmatism so they must ensure they continue to do this. And while different tastes can affect our behaviours and eating in groups may make us eat more, it is proven that eating communally improves wellbeing, self-worth and social cohesion, and it too creates a sense of purpose and identity so the benefits are undeniable (Dunbar, R. 2017; Boyer, K. et al, 2016; Spence, C., 2016). Just because food is unhealthy doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be eaten. A persons income shouldn’t define what they should and should not eat. There just needs to be caution on where the food is going. Cafes would highly welcome cakes and treats, while schools promoting healthy eating would not. The distributors need to ensure they have a wide variety of members from different demographics to ensure all types of food are put to good use.
In order for social eating spaces to be successful they need to be flexible to fit the needs of their visitors and the food they receive (Boyer, K. et al, 2016). This can include changing the times of events, providing community buses to pick up people unable to access the venue, and planning ahead with what meals to cook. In theory, every social eating group should be a unique space that works on their own grounds to fit their own needs.
If you haven’t been to visit one already, I would highly recommend it.
Boyer, K., Orpin, P. and King, A.C. (2016) ‘I come for the friendship’: Why social eating matters. Australasian journal on ageing, 35(3).
Caraher, M., Furey, S. (2017) Is it appropriate to use surplus food to feed people in hunger. Short-term Band-Aid to more deep rooted problems of poverty. Food Research Collaboration Policy Brief
Dunbar, R.I.M. (2017) Breaking Bread: the Functions of Social Eating. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, pp.1-14.
Higgs, S. and Thomas, J., (2016) Social influences on eating. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 9, pp.1-6.
Spence, C. (2016) Gastrodiplomacy: Assessing the role of food in decision-making. Flavour, 5(1), p.4.