There have been a number of arguments in the press and on social media arguing that the use of surplus food to feed food insecure people is at best only a short-term solution and at worst harmful (e.g., Caraher 2017). I would agree that the hunger that is caused by poverty is not only not being addressed by the UK government (see Blake 2015, and a more recent update of the article published by GMPA) but in some cases is being enhanced by current government policy (e.g., a benefits system that has built in delays, draconian sanctions, programme cuts that impact on the most vulnerable). In reading the argument, however, a number of issues stand out as needing further clarification and interrogation. Firstly, there is a lack of understanding about food surplus in terms of what it is. Secondly, there is misconception about how food surplus becomes food for bellies as it travels through the charity sector. Thirdly, there is an overly narrow understanding of the value of surplus food both for charities and those whom they support. These issues are explored in this blog post. Continue reading
This is the text from my recently published peer-reviewed paper in the journal Local Environment. The paper will be part of a special issue on Food Justice edited by Agatha Herman and Mike Goodwin in the future. The e-paper is available, but behind a paywall until May 2018. I am making the text available here as per the copyright agreement, but for correct referencing please see: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13549839.2017.1328674
Researchers for WRAP estimate that the UK currently produces 1.9 million tonnes of waste each year from the grocery supply chain. Of this, about 56% (1.1. million tonnes) can be considered avoidable food waste. mostly because it is surpus and not yet waste. Wrap argues that after changing processes to reduce the amount of food becoming surplus, redistribution of surplus food to people is the most desirable option for food waste prevention. They estimate that about 18% is currently redistributed, with food from the retail sector accounting for about five percent of the total volume of redistributed food and the remainder coming from manufacturing. The WRAP report also considers that at least half of all the surplus could be considered ‘readily redistributable’, while the rest is more challenging because of its shorter life or need for repackaging. The aim is to increase the volume of surplus food that is redistributed by about four times the current amount (from 47,000 tonnes to 185,000 tonnes); to an equivalent of approximately 360 million meals per year by 2025. Achieving this goal will involve a doubling of the amount of food that is redistributed from retail to consumers. One of the recommendations of the report is the development of improved guidance and partnership tools that would facilitate food redistribution. Continue reading
Your oven is probably the most energy inefficient appliances in your house. Running an oven 20 minutes uses about the same amount of energy as running a slow cooker for 8 hours. If you think about this in cost terms, one hour of cooking in an oven is three times more expensive compared to 8 hours of cooking in a slow cooker (see this article in the Telegraph for an explanation). This makes a slow cooker not only a more energy efficient way to cook dinner but it also makes is a great appliance if you are trying to save money. If you break it down, the cost of cooking in an oven for an hour is about £0.30 compared to just over £0.10 in the slow cooker. Maybe the difference doesn’t seem like much. For many, it won’t matter, but for some, it is a big deal.
I do some work with a couple of organisations who distribute emergency food to those who are facing hardship. At a recent meeting, we were discussing the needs of some of these people who are managing on very, very tight budgets. The oven is the last appliance that they want to use when cooking food as people who are struggling to find money for food. In my discussions with emergency food providers in two locations, I was told that there are those coming to the food banks who are struggling on both the food and household fuel fronts.
Some of those who are going to the food bank are also those who get electrical supply via a pre-payment meter (yes, in the UK this is possible). The way these work is that you purchase a card and then insert it into the meter. When you run out of money on the pre-payment card, your electricity turns off. While the cost per unit of electricity used tends to be more expensive than for a service that is continuous and for which you get a bill every month or so, it does allow those on the pre-payment system to limit their electricity use before the bill gets out of hand. Importantly not all household energy use is viewed as equally important, such that there is a suggestion that people will choose to forgo heat in favour of other household expenditures on things such as food, which has given rise to what is known as the heat or eat dilemma (though there is little systematic research that fully explores this situation or the extent to which the heat or eat strategy is being used). It is also unclear just how many in the UK are affected by the lack of fuel and food, but there must certainly be a sufficient number as several food banks are now also providing fuel certificates that enable those on pre-pay meters to keep them going.
While we need to put pressure on our government to consider how our current social support system is designed such that those who are the poorest are increasingly finding themselves unable to meet their basic needs (and this includes those who are in work poor), there is some small support we as citizens can offer. Slow cookers are not just inexpensive to run, but they are also inexpensive to buy. As part of your holiday giving this year why not donate a slow cooker to a charity that supports those who are struggling to eat.
Click to get a downloadable pdf copy of the infographic v2-2-infographic-feeding-affordances-and-decent-helpings-1
I wrote this post on 17 Nov 2010. It is deeply personal and involves two periods in my life: one that was difficult and one full of hope. A lot has changed since then: Drake has died of his disease; I am back in the UK; My life has moved on in radical ways; My children are almost grown. But there is a lot in it I think worth remembering.