Waste

This is a picture of food that’s not fit to be sold in a supermarket.

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See anything wrong with it? Try this one.

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No? This food was rescued from being turned into landfill and instead was delivered to roughly 30 projects around London which feed people.

The charity who collects the food and sends it all out again is called FareShare, and I spent a day volunteering with them this week.

Through their relationships with supermarkets, and with food producers, they receive tonnes of food every day – some non-perishable, some perishable – which can’t be sold. The reasons for this are numerous. For example, the carton says it’s orange juice, but it’s filled with pineapple juice. It’s a taste tester from supermarket HQ which they made too many of. The forecast was for glorious sunshine, so they stacked the shelves with sausages and then it rained and no one barbecued anything. The reasons are varied, but the food is good. It just won’t or can’t be sold.

The food is sorted into cold storage and onto pallets, and then the deliveries are organised. Every day, three vans go out from the Deptford warehouse, each capable of carrying 2.5 tonnes of food. In our van today we took around a tonne – apples, meat, cheese, juice, potatoes, curry sauce, tea bags, gravy granules, mangoes, melons…

We then distributed it to homelessness projects, women’s refuges, supper clubs, schools, rehab centres, YMCAs, breakfast clubs, children’s projects, lunch groups for the elderly, and so on.

It strikes me as a terrible travesty that in a society where so much food can afford to be wasted there are people who can’t afford to buy food. I’m not an economist, but something seems to have gone wrong where supply is greater than demand, and the price of the product is too much for those demanding food to pay. I know it’s more complex than this – that food has to have a basic cost based on production methods and transport and packaging etc.

20nH7I’d love to know how much food is wasted every year, how much is sent to Indonesian landfill sites, and how much that costs. Then I’d like to know how many people that wasted food could have potentially fed, and compare that with the number of people living on the breadline. I’d like to work out whether the cost of redistributing food is greater or less than the cost of shipping it to Asia to be buried. I want know if it would be more cost efficient to stock less food altogether. And I’d be fascinated to see what happens to our national psyche when we go into a supermarket at the end of the day to find that some fresher items have sold out – would we become more conscious of our own individual food waste? Or would we consider it a crisis of confidence that we can’t keep up the illusion of having plenty, of having so much that we’ve enough food to just throw it casually away?

That’s a lot of questions from one day’s volunteering…

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