Image Credit: Yourcafé
If food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. So many of us have chucked out the last few bites of dinner, or cut off extra conservative chunks from fruit or veg to avoid mould or bruising. As an individual, a little bit of food waste a day does not seem like much, but globally, almost one third of all food made for human consumption is wasted. That amounts to over a billion tonnes of food every year. To break that down, in the UK, the average family throws away 22 percent of their food shop costing the average family £700 per year. You could go on holiday for that, or pay several weeks’ rent. The University of York alone disposed of 149 tonnes of food waste from student accommodation and catering last academic year.
Of course, households are not the only culprits. Food waste is an issue which crops up all along the supply chain. Food manufacturers are the worst, wasting 1.8 million tonnes of food. Next is the hospitality sector, which wastes one million tonnes, and finally retail wastes 260000 tonnes of food. This issue is not one which can be fixed by households alone, as the whole food industry is at fault.
One of the driving forces behind food waste is expiration dates. Supermarkets cannot legally sell food which is out of date, and many consumers wrongly believe all food which has gone out of date is bad for them. The reality is that expiration dates are often conservative, and especially with foods such as fruit and vegetables there is nothing wrong with eating them out of date. Consumers should be weary of the difference between use by date and best before end date. Use by dates mean the food is unsafe after the prescribed date. However, some foods can be frozen before that date to prolong their life. With best before end dates, the food is still safe to eat after the date, it is just at its highest quality before that date.
Okay, fine, we waste a lot of food, but what does that mean? One in nine people on this planet are starving or malnourished. Yet, all of those millions of people could be fed, and well, on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the UK, USA, and Europe each year.
Let that sink in. We could end hunger worldwide just with food waste.
Hunger, malnourishment, and poverty are a whole different issue entirely, but part of the problem is the food industry. Western demand for certain foods grown in developing countries diverts food away from those who need it. For example, a worker may grow bananas in Costa Rica and yet go home every night hungry, because the produce he grows goes abroad. Furthermore, Westerndemand increases the price ofstaple foods, thereby aggravating the hunger issue. And hunger is not just a problem in developing countries.In the UK, 8.4 million people cannot always afford to put food on the table. That’s the entire population of London. Even if redistributing all our food waste worldwide is not realistic, we could easily make the lives of so many malnourished people here in our own country better.
Food waste is not only wasting food which could curb starvation, but also damages our planet unnecessarily. Land that could fill the entirety of China is used to grow food which is never eaten every year. That is a waste on many levels: that land has been deforested, removed the habitat of certain animals, moved indigenous populations, wasted labour, wasted energy, wasted packaging, and degraded the soil. Also, uneaten food wastes fresh water, which is used to irrigate crops and is used in the production of many edible goods. Worst of all, when food waste goes to landfill, as opposed to when it is added to compost, it decomposes without oxygen and creates methane, which is a worse polluter than carbon dioxide. In a society where we are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental consequences of our way of life, surely stopping food waste should be a top priority, as it is easier than making all cars electric or using renewable energy.
So, being less wasteful with our food could help feed the world, prevent unnecessary environmental destruction, save money, and save unnecessary packaging. There are many different ways to remedy food waste, but the easiest and best way seems to be redistribution, so that those needing food can be given the surplus food of others. Your Café in York does just that.
YourCafé is a weekly café, located in the Tang Hall Community Centre in York, which serves meals made from food which would otherwise have been wasted. Yourcafé not only tackles local food waste, but also has become a community hub, as diners sit at long tables eating together. As a charity, the café is run by volunteers, and even better, payment is pay- as-you-feel, which makes Yourcafé so much more accessible for people of all means, as you can pay with money, time, services, or whatever you can provide.
YourCafé collects surplus food from a variety of places around York. These include Tesco, Marks and Spencer’s, Costcutter, and Co-op. Recently, even University of York catering outlets have been donating their unused food to Yourcafé. The volunteers also include a gardening team who grow vegetables for the café to bulk out the meals and ensure they are nutritious. Sometimes, the food received from the suppliers is obscure: for example, one week they received 60 litres of milk. A more normal example of a weekly donation is: 24 x 2kg bags of potatoes, a few carrots, some sweet peppers, a box of mushrooms, six bags of mange tout, a few leeks, bananas, and some cheese slices. The Yourcafé kitchen also has a store cupboard with herbs, spices, grains, pulses, beans, flour and more. With all this combined produce, the cooks make a range of meals which cover all sorts of diets and delicacies. There is always a non- vegetarian main, and also vegetarian and vegan options, a non-vegetarian main, a starter, and a dessert.
Any left-over food is then passed on to St Nick’s, York’s nature reserve and environment centre, or to the parents of Tang Hall Primary School to ensure absolutely nothing is wasted.
Yourcafé also runs Luke’s Larder, a food stall which redistributes surplus food. Instead of the produce being cooked for you, Luke’s Larder acts as a mini-market. The Larder also runs on a pay-as-you-feel basis.
Thanks to Yourcafé, 30 tonnes of surplus food was saved in 2018. That is enough food to feed 41 people every day for a whole year. I spoke to Margaret Hattam, co-founder of Yourcafé, about the impact of the café. She said that “climate change is the main challenge for us, so raising awareness of the contribution made by our food choices isessential.” Margaret has also said that community is at the heart of their work.
Margaret and her co-founder Margaret Hogg were inspired to set up Yourcafé by Adam Smith’s The Real Junk Food Project. As he is based in Leeds, it was easy to meet up with him and they decided to take on his ideas to create something similar in York. Yourcafé started in 2015, and since then they have served over 4000 meals.
Image credit: Yourcafé
The Real Junk Food Project began as a café, Armley Junktion, in Leeds in 2013, and has now inspired over 120 projects in over seven countries worldwide. In the UK alone, there are similar projects in cities like Sheffield, Brighton, Birmingham, Coventry, Manchester, and Liverpool. The Real Junk Food Project has intercepted 5000 tonnes of food waste, the equivalent of 11.9 million meals. The pay-as-you-feel model and community spirit are at the heart of their work.
Adam Smith of TRJFP said in a Ted Talk that “we are manipulated by... expiration dates”. He blames them for the issue of food waste, and accuses the food industry of being a “system” that was “set up to exploit humanity”. That is, to make money rather than to strive to feed the world. In this talk, he revealed that even food banks waste a lot of food as they are only allowed to keep produce for a certain period of time. Therefore, even if it is canned food which is able to be preserved for a long time, food banks cannot keep it beyond the designated few months.
Notably, Adam exposed Children in Need for wasteful behaviour. He revealed that they made the longest chain of cupcakes – 15000 of them – but did not plan to eat them. Instead, Adam was called in to redistribute these thousands of cupcakes across the country. If he had not been there, all that food would have gone to waste. Even charities are to blame for the food waste crisis. Adam calls for a new outlook concerning food: for it to be considered as nourishment, not as a commodity or taken lightly. It should be valued and taken seriously.
Aside from Yourcafé and The Real Junk Food Project, there are a range of different initiatives out there tackling the issue of food waste. Olio is like the Depop for food. You post a picture and description of any food you want to get rid of, and others in the local area can contact you to pick it up. Even better, that food is free if you pick it up. So, you can connect with your neighbours, reduce food waste, and get some great free food!
Too Good to Go is similar to Olio, but the app is for leftover restaurant food waste, so that you can get the leftovers from a buffet or your favourite place to eat.
Fare Share redistributes surplus food to charities and communities. These include homeless hostels, children’s breakfast clubs, lunch clubs for the elderly, domestic violence refuges, community cafés, and more. Fare Share ensures surplus food is going to those in need.
Aside from redistribution, there are other ways to combat food waste. There is Wrap, which helps organisations reduce their waste. The food waste advisers at Wrap helps these businesses realise the economic benefits as well as the efficiency of reducing their food waste.
In terms of advice, Love Food Hate Waste has a website full of tips on minimising household food waste. This includes tips such as: only buy what you need, finish your food, use your freezer, and use all of your leftovers. There are lots of recipes to eat up leftovers, such as potato peel soup, but also simple meal ideas such as curries or French toast to get cooking your produce, rather than letting it go to waste.
I spoke to Mark Clough, the University of York’s Sustainability Manager, who told me about on-campus initiatives such as The Big Green Clean, which allows students to donate their non-perishable unopened food to YUSU Offices at the end of the academic year, to be redistributed to local charities. The University of York website itself has tips on how to reduce food waste. These include: plan your meals, do not let food go off, and cook with your housemates. Also, colleges have food waste bins, so make sure you use them!
Many supermarkets are selling “wonky” or “ugly” vegetables, which would have otherwise been thrown out because they are deemed not attractive enough to eat, despite being perfectly edible.
The City of York is doing their part with Allerton Waste Recovery Park, which generates electricity from household waste. Homes across North Yorkshire and York fuel this electric power plant, so to avoid waste going to landfill. Crucially, AWRP sorts waste, so that it is recycled or transformed into energy. Organic material is also separated so it can go through an anaerobic digester, to generate renewable energy. Of course, this whole process of biofuel releases carbon dioxide, so although it is renewable, it is not the cleanest energy source. However, it is one solution to food waste, and it is better than fossil fuels for the environment.
Tackling food waste can help combat world hunger, deforestation, loneliness, and more. It is essential that tackling the issue of food waste involves the community and the suppliers. Part of the issue with food waste seems to be that we have forgotten that the food we buy in supermarkets does not have to be eaten only by the person who bought it. There is a whole local community around us, not to mention those who are actually in need of food, who would welcome leftover nourishment. With the rise of smartphones and the internet, we seem to be forgetting that people live next door. All it takes is for us to share.
Equally crucial to the food waste revolution is a system change, whereby food is made to be eaten, not sold. In our current system, only those who can afford food have access to it. However, every human being requires food in order to live. If we are willing to throw out our excess food, then we should at least make sure that excess food feeds someone rather than being left to rot.
Yourcafé is open Wednesdays from 11am to 12pm in Tang Hall Community Centre. Luke’s Larder is open on Wednesdays in St Luke’ Church Hall. And, there is now a student branch Feed Bellies Not Bins, which brings a stall to the Spring Lane Building on campus a few days each term.
Yourcafé is always looking for volunteers and donations to help their important cause. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in helping out their efforts.