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BY MATTHEW SMITH & JOE HUGHES 10/09/2015
The fact that at least half a million people in the UK alone use food banks is a shameful statistic, one that is damning of modern Britain; our desire to find out more about this issue led us to a chance encounter with Adam Smith, the founder of the Real Junk Food Project, who highlighted to us the other equally important issue that is often overlooked in this discussion; food waste.
We spoke to Adam and some of his colleagues at one of the many cafes they have founded around the UK where they intercept perfectly edible food that would otherwise be wasted and serve it on a strictly pay as you feel policy. 15 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK and we saw for ourselves the alarming amount of food that is wasted and ends up with them, food from Leeds market, local burger vans, Morrison's and Nandos all sits in their kitchen.
The Real Junk Food Project are making the best of this bad situation and putting this food waste to good use through their cafes and other community projects but the real goal is to reduce this insane level of wastage; an estimated 89 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the E.U and this is expected to rise to 126 million tonnes by 2020 if no action is taken. Looking deeper into this issue we feel that there are several ways that food waste can be tackled: the first being a wholesale change in consumer attitudes to food, including how individuals can make small changes in order to reduce household food waste and an awareness and knowledge of how to make the most of the food they have. Another major issue is legislation surrounding food, including sell by dates and food safety legislation that often defies common sense, such as 'best before' dates on bottled water.
Supermarkets also contribute to food waste by pushing multi-buy offers on consumers. These are offered under the guise of saving us money, but this can be misleading; a Which? study recently found that multi-buy offers don't actually reflect a real saving, with supermarkets increasing the regular price of an item to put it on a multi-buy offer, meaning the multiple items would have been cheaper before the change. This is not only ripping us off but often leading to people ending up with more food than they want or need, this food is often then never used. Supermarkets now use 'use by' and 'best before' dates on produce instead of 'sell by', which is a step in the right direction, but these can still be misleading as people will rely on these to tell them whether food is edible rather than common sense. According to the Food Standards Agency 2/3rds of U.K consumers trust a use by date to determine whether to throw away food rather than judging by looks or smell.
Whilst it would be helpful in the fight against food waste, discarding use by dates completely could pose more issues than it solves; food poisoning and legal issues are just two examples. This highlights the need for increased awareness and knowledge of food waste and how we can make a difference individually. Almost 50% (7 million tonnes of food and drink; more than half of which could have been eaten) of total food waste comes from our own homes costing the average household with children around £700 per year. So we as consumers are the ones with the power to stop this, making small changes to way we approach our shopping can make a huge difference; shopping lists, not buying more than we need, planning the weeks meals, inviting friends over if you have more than you need, only cook and prepare as much as you need, or freeze leftovers. Arguably the most important way to reduce household food waste is by using common sense, often overlooked in favour of dates on packaging, fear of illness or being unable to fit an item into a meal or recipe. A recent law proposal in France recommended introducing a food waste education programme in schools, this could easily be implemented into cooking lessons already seen in British schools; this could include teaching children the realities of what edible food looks like and staple recipes using items that are often wasted, such as potatoes and bread (these two alone contribute 18.5% of the weight of all avoidable food waste in the U.K).
Our own individual changes in attitudes to food and food waste need to be supported with changes to legislation if there is to be a large scale solution to this problem. We need to support politicians who are standing up for law change regarding food waste, lobbying mps to bring this debate to parliament. In wake of the French parliament dropping a recent law which proposed large supermarkets would been banned from throwing away food (instead donating edible food to charities with non-edible food becoming animal feed), French supermarkets have voluntarily agreed to establish donation agreements with authorised charities and community projects . This shows that despite the law being dropped the push for legislation and wave of public support meant that the supermarkets decided to act in defiance of parliament. This can be seen as a victory and it is of course a positive that rather than being destroyed this waste food is ending up in the hands of charities, community projects and ultimately the people who need it. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction but does not deal with the root issue of stopping food waste. In order to drastically reduce the alarming level of food waste in this country we all need to take responsible actions over food waste, as we have shown, even small changes in regular routines can make a difference. As with many issues, the answer to the food waste issue lies with us, so next time you're clearing out the fridge take a moment to consider whether throwing it away really is the best solution.
To witness just how much can be done with the 'unusable' food we throw away we would recommend sampling the delights of your local Real Junk Food cafe; they are located around the country (and worldwide) and meals are provided in return for donations of money, skills and time.
Check out The Real Junk Food Project for more & find out where your local cafe is here