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
I recently participated in symposium that was considering waste in relation to food. It was put on as a pre-conference event to the 2015 RGS/IBG meetings held in Exeter. The symposium, which took place on a working farm, was both fascinating and very engaging. You can find out more about the event and its participants on the web site developed by the organisers here. I encourage you to have a look at the link as you will learn about West Town Farm and the activities of the day. My role at the symposium was to give a short talk around the issue of food waste and neoliberalism. I chose to use an excellent food re-use project–The Real Junk Food Project–as a mechanism for focusing my questions. I am offering the text of my provocation in what follows. Continue reading
This autumn will be the inaugural year for the Food Security and Food Justice MA that I have been developing over the last 18 months. The University of Sheffield has singled it out as being innovative and is using it as an example of good practice in its guidance for those wishing to start up an masters course. To that end, there is a video of me talking about the course. What got cut from the video was the discussion about the field course module that is a mandatory part of the course. It is to Hong Kong and promises to be very exciting.
I am increasingly interested in the ways in which various forms of public engagement can help facilitate change in our food systems. Certainly these forms of interaction throw up surprises both in terms of critical topical insights, but also in the ways they recalibrate what I understand as being accepted knowledge.
My most recent effort at engagement is to host a hearing for the Fabian Society for a commission on Food and Poverty, which will take place on 27 January 2015. The aim of the commission is to influence government action on the topic of food poverty in the UK. My aim, is linked, but also to continue to create critical buzz and to further momentum around the work that is being done both in research but also the public sphere on the important topic of food poverty and to strengthen and extend the connectivities within the network of interested parties within the region.
Within Sheffield and indeed the larger Yorkshire region, there is a critical mass of parties interested and working toward a better food system. This includes public sector actors, voluntary organisations, researchers and private citizens. What has become clear to me over the last year is the lack of connectivity within this network of actors. People know each other as little network clusters, but linking into and being able to visualise the whole of that network is still very difficult to realise. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know that providing repeated opportunities for people within this network to interact is not a waste of time, as I see with each event new connections being made between those within the group, which in turn produces new possibilities for innovative collaboration.
It is also clear to me that at some point the critical action occurring at the local scale, must inform and interact politics and action at the national and international scales. While the specificities and sometimes the agendas will vary from place to place, there is a need for the development of case studies that demonstrate and elaborate good practice. These case studies then need to be communicated widely in order for the innovations inherent within each case to diffuse to other networks and places.
If you would like to attend the hearing, it is on 27/1/2015. Tickets are available here.
There will also be further blog posts and a storify from the event. I will post the links as they become available. We will be using the following hashtags for the event if you want to follow on Twitter. #foodandpoverty #FeedingBritain
UPDATE: Please see the storify here, which includes videos of the main speakers.