Worldwide, ⅓ of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.
In the UK alone, 10 million tonnes of post-farm food is wasted – 70% of which is avoidable. This immense amount of food is valued at £20bn. Despite this huge surplus of food being wasted each year, a substantial number of people in the UK are going hungry. In the last 12 months, 1 in 6 adults have skipped meals because of lack of money with 1 in 12 going a whole day without food due to lack of money. 4.7 million people in the UK are living in severely food insecure homes with children often experiencing physical sensations of hunger.
With 70% of total food waste occurring in households, it is crucial that people start to take notice of what they are buying and then throwing away. In a survey by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, less than half of people understood the “best before” label found on food items and that food can be eaten past this date. To prevent people throwing away perfectly edible food, Tesco has removed the “best before” label from many of its fruit and vegetables.
1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted by the food industry each year. Redistribution of surplus food is becoming more commonplace. Food that is past its “best before” date and due to go in the bin is collected from the food industry and then redistributed. Receiving redistributed food allows small organisations and charities to save money they would otherwise spend on food, allowing them to direct the money elsewhere and continue the good work they do.
Fareshare is the UK’s largest charity fighting hunger and food waste simultaneously. They redistribute good food saved from food industry bins to schools, homeless hostels, children’s breakfast clubs, refugees and community groups. Enough food was redistributed in the past year to make over 1,600,000 meals for vulnerable people.
Foodcycle uses surplus food to serve tasty meals every day in cities and towns across the UK. Foodcycle not only focuses on tackling food waste and hunger but also on combating social isolation.
Regularly eating alone is the biggest cause for unhappiness besides existing mental illness. Those who eat socially are generally more satisfied with life, have a larger support network of friends, more trusting of others and more engaged with their local communities. The health implications of loneliness are shown to be comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Those who are socially isolated and lonely are more prone to developing depression and 26% more likely to experience early death. A guest of Foodcycle says,
Gives me a reason for getting up in the morning since living without my husband (who died at the age of 93)
Community eating projects are opening throughout the country. Students at the University of Sheffield run a “Wellbeing Cafe” every Monday using surplus food supplied by the Real Junk Food Project. Social isolation is widespread in students across the UK with 46% admitting to loneliness during their time at university. Wellbeing Cafe is an open and welcoming space for students to share a healthy meal together. The aim is to foster a sense of belonging among those who attend whilst also tackling food waste.
Also in Sheffield, Foodhall is a community space designed to bring people together from all walks of life – students, the elderly, those without a home. They use surplus food collected from local supermarkets to prepare tasty food, served in a pay-as-you-feel fashion. Volunteer, Annie Vohra said,
I really enjoy volunteering at Foodhall. I have met so many interesting people from every background imaginable. The sense of community created by sharing food is something I am proud to be a part of.
Those at Foodhall are working towards growing a National Food Service, with the goal to create a public system of social eating spaces. The social eating movement is focussed on bringing people together to create a sustainable future, with all to benefit culturally, financially and in well-being.
The Asset-Based Community Development approach focuses on using the existing strengths and skills of residents to build a stronger, more sustainable community. An asset-based approach rather than a deficit-based approach establishes a level of resilience within members of a community that is more than just ‘coping’. The community develops a ‘transforming’ resilience which reduces the risk of members coming into difficulties in the first place. For the social eating movement to grow, a sense of community must be reestablished.
We have the potential to tackle the issues of social isolation, hunger and food waste all in one. But the question is, can people put their prejudices aside enough to sit and share a meal together as equals?