Tag Archives: food waste

Report from Inside the People’s March – the Juicy Details

On the evening of last week’s Conference of the Parties  international climate change conference (COP21) (1), people joined together all over the world to show what we can do and to start doing it…

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Gathering of the Food Warriors – A Formidable Scene. The apples shown here are less than half of what was intercepted. Photo by Feedback.

I’m not afraid of anything that’s blocking me/ I’m not afraid of human force”(2)
Even in Paris, where public demonstrations were banned in the days preceding the conference under the ambiguous reason of “security concerns”, more than 10,000 activists managed to make a human chain in a peaceful manifestation (3). However, London’s March was even more demonstrative of our potentiality to create positive change; as we were not demanding anything from anybody, simply showing what we have got.

 

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Many groups were represented at the march, from pandas and clownfish…

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To coral reefs…

This was the overwhelming sentiment I got from last month’s People’s March – by the people, for the people. Government “leaders” may have been getting high on the sound of their own voices in Paris, but one thing the March clearly demonstrated was the huge variety of initiatives which are aiding the process of positive societal change, all of which are already functioning in the UK and beyond.

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This “hippy” could be recognised by hir placard. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Free (no price) and Free (liberated)

My role at the March was very particular: as an “exotic waste warrior”, I was showing what I got!

What did I got? Apples! Around 2500 of them,  rejected by supermarkets due to “cosmetic standards”, but thanks to the Gleaning Network (4) and This Is Rubbish(5), were intercepted and gifted as sustenance to anyone who came within a hundred feet of us.

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Apples for All! Photo by Feedback.

2500 at first seemed quite overwhelming, but in fact they all went amazingly quickly. We began handing out the apples around 11.30am and by the time the March actually began moving around 1.30pm we had only a couple of handfuls left. Such speed of redistribution shows that redirecting abundance can be very simple and easy; especially if we bring the surplus food to a place where there are many hungry people already gathering.

If you eat, you’re in

One key reason to be handing out apples on a march focused on climate change (other than their clear high value in both taste and symbology) is to highlight the impact which food waste has on the environment. Since we currently throw away around 30 – 50% of our food on a global scale even before it gets to a consumer (6), this equates to food waste, if it was a country, being the third largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, after only the USA and China (7).

If you are not a citizen of the USA or China you may think there is not much you can do about the first two, though it may be worthwhile considering where you buy your products from. There is a lot you can directly do about number 3, if you ever indulge in the pastime of eating.

You do? Then read on, as the solutions are delicious!

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Enjoying some of the delicious solutions as we handed out the fruit. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Some tasty ideas

For starters we have harvesting rescuers The Gleaning Network (4) who intercept fruit and vegetables from the fields which would otherwise have gone to waste, and Abundance (8), who map wild fruit trees for DIY harvesting. Then there is national network Fareshare (9) who redistribute supermarket surplus to charities and community groups, and more local versions of this such as Community Food Enterprises (10) in London and the Food Waste Collective (11) in Brighton.

This is Rubbish uses intercepted supermarket fruit and vegetables in tantalising and creative ways to entice and inspire you to do more about saving food.

These groups are doing fantastic work to bring the surplus abundance which already exists to people who are hungry. Yet all are working on the idea that, once the root of the waste is addresd, ideally they would no longer need to exist.

We can all help with this simply by changing our shopping habits. One very easy step is to only buy food produced in your country of residence; as it has had to travel a lot less far and so is less likely to produce carbon emissions or for unnecessary amounts to be thrown away.

Another is to check out This is Rubbish’s new campaign Stop the Rot (12), which is aiming to reduce food waste throughout the UK supply chain.

Enough to whet your appetite? You don’t have to stop here… Food is an issue which affects us all, and eating can always feel good. How do you relate to your food? How can you use this to create a healthier, more energy efficient food system?

The only limit here is your imagination…

References

1. Cop21, 2015. ‘COP21’. http://www.cop21paris.org/
2. Dubioza Kolektiv, 2006. ‘Justce’. Lyrics by Dubioza kolektiv. https://www.gugalyrics.com/lyrics-403779/dubioza-kolektiv-justice.html
3. Ecowatch, 2015. ‘10,000 form human chain in Paris demanding that world leaders keep fossil fuels in the ground’. Ecowatch, 29/11/15. http://ecowatch.com/2015/11/29/human-chain-paris/
4. Feedback Global, 2015. The Gleaning Network’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/
5. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About TiR’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/
6. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2013. ‘Waste Not Want Not’. Imeche: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0
7. European Commission JOint Research Centre, 2015. CO2 time series 1990-2013 per capita for world countries. http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=CO2ts_pc1990-2013
8. Abundance, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.abundancenetwork.org.uk/about-us
9. Fareshare, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.fareshare.org.uk/about-us/
10. CFE, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.c-f-e.org.uk/About%20CFE.htm
11. HASL, 2015. ‘Food Waste’. http://www.hasl.org.uk/food-waste.html
12. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Stop the Rot’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/project/stoptherot/

Gathering for Delicious Solutions – Join the People’s Party!

As the drizzle continues to spatter fitfully on the pavements, the grey sky reflecting from grey windows; the bare branches of the trees in Hyde Park waving in a rather dismal fashion, you would not necessarily expect that today London will see a hugely important gathering- a gathering to show that we as citizens of the world are willing to work together to protect and respect it. The gathering is a mirror of many others in cities throughout the globe, with the semi-focus (or excuse for a demonstration?) being Paris, the site of the 21st Conference of the Parties (1) – the largest international climate conference in the world.

Every year the ‘leaders’ of our countries meet at the Conference of the Parties, and every year numerous events are organised to show people’s opinion on the issues involved. The name of the demonstration in London today is the ‘People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs’ (2) and it will incorporate a hugely diverse section of British and international society, from Interfaith (3) to Frack Free (4), and with representation from all major UK political parties with the probably unsurprising exception of the Conservatives (5). Such variety is a fantastic opportunity to “showcase the breadth, diversity and creativity of the climate movement” (5).

Such showcasing is especially important in the wake of the French government’s somewhat counterintuitive decision to ban the planned sister demonstrations in Paris, under the pretext of “security concerns” (6). Though perhaps understandable, one plain message the ban seems to be sending is that the government does not want to listen to the people (7). Never mind. We can listen to each other…

I will be participating as part of the Food and Agriculture bloc with This is Rubbish (8), the Gleaning Network (9) and many others, and as part of my continuing efforts to turn around all previous perceptions of waste into ones of abundance, shall be merrily distributing intercepted apples to hungry gatherers along the way. As well as fruity treats we are planning to be marching with a ‘funky bluegrass band’; so even if you have never had any previous interest in the related issues, why not come along for a munch and a stomp?

The march starts at 1pm today, with the meeting point on Park Lane (nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner)(5). See you there!

References

  1. UNFCCC, 2015. ‘COP: What’s it all about?’ http://www.cop21paris.org/about/cop21 – retrieved 29/11/15
  2. Climate Justice Jobs, 2015. ‘About’. http://climatejusticejobs.org.uk/about/– retrieved 29/11/15
  3. World Jewish Relief, 2015. ‘Interfaith Event – People’s March’. Facebook, 29/11/15. https://www.facebook.com/events/1654130218200826/– retrieved 29/11/15
  4. People’s Climate March, 2015. ‘Frack Free Bloc @ the March’. Facebook, 29/1/15. https://www.facebook.com/events/907641779291656/– retrieved 29/11/15
  5. Climate Justice Jobs, 2015. ‘Blocs on the March’. http://climatejusticejobs.org.uk/blocs-on-the-march/– retrieved 29/11/15
  6. Prupis, N, 2015. ‘France Cancels Major Climate March, Groups Say they won’t be silenced’. Ecowatch, 19/11/15. http://ecowatch.com/2015/11/19/france-cancels-climate-march/– retrieved 29/11/15- retrieved 29/11/15
  7. Queally, J, 2015. ‘Groups Demand French President Lift Ban on Climate Proetsts and Marches’. Ecowatch, 27/11/15. http://ecowatch.com/2015/11/27/cop21-lift-ban-marches/ – retrieved 29/11/15
  8. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About TiR’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/– retrieved 29/11/15
  9. Feedback Global, 2015. ‘Gleaning Network’. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/ – retrieved 29/11/15

 

 

Exotic Excess at the Harvest Stomp

All photos by Alan Husband.

The Exotic Excess Cafe. Photo by Alan Husband.

The Exotic Excess Cafe. Photo by Alan Husband.

The poet William Blake said “the thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest” (1). If he was right, then the visitors to the Exotic Excess Café at Groundwork (2)’s Harvest Stomp Festival (3) this Autumn Equinox are now very well provisioned. The Café, run by community interest group This is Rubbish (TiR) (4), was perhaps inaptly named as we were not selling anything but giving away huge amounts of surplus fruit and vegetables. As the autumn sun shone down on the tightly trimmed grass of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London, we could hardly move for interested and thankful visitors and happy festival-goers.

Thankful receivers bearing our plentiful harvest. Photo by Alan Husband.

Thankful receivers bearing our plentiful harvest. Photo by Alan Husband.

A Modern Harvest

The festival had many diverse stalls, from bee-keeping demonstrations with honey harvests to vegetable competitions for home-grown harvests. At the Exotic Excess café, however, we were focussing on a slightly different kind of harvest. As an estimated 36% of the food purchased in the UK goes to waste before it even reaches the consumer (5), there is a huge potential to intercept this and re-direct it to people who need food. As I have already explored through my work with the Gleaning Network (6) and the Food Waste Collective (7), there are a number of different strategies already operative in the UK for how to do this.

A key aspect of any food redistribution work is (unsurprisingly) sourcing the food and then finding hungry people to give it to. Perhaps of equal importance is the way in which we perceive and react to our food. If we show appreciation and thankfulness we are probably more likely to give value to the stuff we eat and see it as a worthy substance that should be used carefully and responsibly, rather than as a commodity. One fantastic way of doing this is to have a celebration! So that’s exactly what we did…

Talking about the Food

As we currently produce around enough food in the world to feed 12bn people (7). This coupled with the estimated 30 – 50% of food which is wasted annually on a global scale (9) shows starkly that food scarcity is an illusion and better organisation of food systems is necessary.

However, if we confront people with only facts such as those stated above, there is a chance of creating feelings of anger and/or helplessness. We prefer to inspire – which is why we have Exotic Hostesses serving up intercepted food on silver trays, and encourage communal eating in shared appreciation with a finale of a giant Salad Toss – where we entice members of the public to aid in creating a salad so large it has to be tossed in a tarpaulin.

Preparing Fruity Sticks, and for the Great Salad. Photo by Alan Husband.

Preparing Fruity Sticks, and for the Great Salad. Photo by Alan Husband.

Fruity Sticks and Salad Tosses

When I participated in the Exotic Excess Café last July at the Waterloo Food Festival (10) the predominant food stuffs we had intercepted was bananas, apples, peaches, grapes, oranges…In other words, fruit, fruit and more fruit. This year, we had many more vegetables to redistribute, including numerous packets of rocket and crates of lettuce, as well as carrots, courgettes and peppers. Thus the Salad was a savoury one, but we still had many many fruits to distribute, which we did in the form of make-your-own Fruity Sticks (a hit with the younger visitors) as well as inviting passersby to collect from our “shop” – actually, freely available produce for anyone to take and consume.

Who Could Resist? Photo by Alan Husband.

Who Could Resist? Photo by Alan Husband.

A Glimpse of Abundance. Photo by Alan Husband.

A Glimpse of Abundance. Photo by Alan Husband.

Excess to no Excess

At many food surplus events I have worked at, we have excess food at the end which it is a puzzle what to know to do with. I still have some kilograms of dried corn left from last September’s sweetcorn glean (11), waiting to be polenta-ed; and we were definitely far from taking all of the corn which was going to waste on that day.

However, the vibrant volunteers, along with the warmth of the day and the irresistibility of taking free food (especially when it’s been sprinkled with edible glitter) meant that the event was a great success. Once the festival-goers had got over any confusion or even suspicion about why we were not asking for money, most took to the idea with pleasure. So when we began gathering people for the grand finale, the Great Salad Toss, we ended up with quite a crowd of about twenty to take on the noble role of holding the tarpaulin while the salad ingredients were poured in.

Helping the Sultan to entice people to give a toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

Helping the Sultan to entice people to give a toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

Salad tossing can be a tricky business, and with such a giant salad it has to be seen as a precise art. Luckily we had This is Rubbish’s Sultan overseeing affairs, and the tossing went smoothly with much enjoyment from the crowd.

A perfect toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

A perfect toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

What’s Next?

All feedback I received on the day was positive, and we collected many ‘food waste pledges’ from people inspired to take personal, practical steps towards reducing food waste in their own lives. There will probably be more Exotic Excess Cafés to follow – check out the TiR website (4) for more information – yet ideally, we shouldn’t have to run such events at all, if we all begin using food in a responsible and respectful way.

To this end TiR have many other projects including the brand newly launched ‘Stop the Rot’ (12) campaign, aimed at influencing government and industry to introduce new ways of dealing with food which will reduce the amount of waste in the UK. In order to be effective the campaign needs as much publicity from the British public as possible, so feel free to spread the word. Even if you do not feel you wish to place your energy into national politics, remember that all government action is ultimately decided by what the citizens of a country do – or don’t do.

All change begins at a personal level, and in this time of harvest it is worth noting the abundance around us and perhaps changing our perceptions to envision and act towards a more fruitful future.

References

  1. Blake, W, 1790 -93. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Bodleian Library: Oxford (Re-printed 2011).
  2. Groundwork, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.groundwork.org.uk/Pages/Category/about-us-uk – retrieved 2/10/15
  3. Groundwork London, 2015. ‘The Harvest Stomp’, Project Dirt Events. http://www.projectdirt.com/apps/event/37931/– retrieved 2/10/15
  4. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  5. WRAP, 2015. Estimates of Food and Packaging Waste in the UK Grocery Retail and Hospitality Supply Chains. http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/UK%20Estimates%20February%2015%20%28FINAL%29.pdf – retrieved 2/10/15
  6. Feedback Global UK, 2015. Gleaning Network. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/– retrieved 2/10/15
  7. Hanover Action for Sustainable Living, 2015. ‘The Food Waste Collective’. http://www.hasl.org.uk/food-waste.html – retrieved 2/10/15
  8. De Schutter, O, 2013. ‘Report on Right to Food’. United Nations General Assembly: Geneva
  9. Institute of Mechanical Engineers 2010. ‘Waste Not Want Not’. IMechE: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0 – retrieved 10/9/15
  10. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Exotic Excess, Lower Marsh Market, Waterloo’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/event/july-2014-exotic-excess-lower-marsh-market-waterloo/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  11. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Gleaning First-Hand’. Abundance Garden, 3/11/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/gleaning-first-hand/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  12. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Stop the Rot’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/project/stoptherot/– retrieved 2/10/15

Notes

All photos by Alan Husband. Want to see more of the day? His Flickr album is here: Harvest Stomp on flickr.

Happy Giving Thanks Time

 

Last week saw the celebration, observed in the USA and by many others around the world as well, of Thanksgiving: a festival to observe the importance of giving thanks for one’s food, marked usually with a feast, presumably as with extra food we can be extra grateful.

The festival has its roots in the end of harvest celebrations of many Native American tribes and indeed most cultures around the world, who would usually hold feasts at this time of year to thank the earth and the plants and animals for providing for them, and continuing to provide for them (see for example 1). This seems an important thing to remember and to celebrate, although it should not necessarily be only once a year. While it is appropriate to be aware of the changing of the seasons and give thanks for autumn’s abundance in preparation for the cold scarcity of winter, food is something which most of us eat every day, so why should we not celebrate this at every mouthful?

Changing attitudes

Perhaps one reason why there is currently so much food waste in the world is that many in our modern culture are forgetting this key fact: that food is something we can be joyous about, and not only at thanksgiving. If this is forgotten, then the celebration may as well not have happened. In a way it is nice that the Thanksgiving festival is still acknowledged in a culture which could be seen from some angles to be rather shallow and unfeeling. However, when we look at statistics like the fact that every year, American families throw away around one third of perfectly good food (2), or that every Thanksgiving the food waste figures raise drastically (2), then it seems that we have a little way to go before we can really be said to be giving thanks.

In 2012 a report estimated that every Thanksgiving, “$282 million worth of perfectly edible meat will be wasted, enough to feed each American household in the country 11 additional servings” (3).

This phenomenon does not relate only to food; and it is not characteristic of only the USA either. In the UK in 2012 again (for some reason I cannot find more recent figures; hopefully a sign we are getting less wasteful?) a report estimated that over Christmas we throw away 2m turkeys, 5m Christmas puddings and 74m mince pies (4).

Such figures seem to suggest that we need a little more encouragement of being thankful, because after all, as Dana Gunders of environmental research group the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out, “part of being thankful is not wasting food” (2).

Abundance!

Many people are doing something to facilitate this change in attitude. Last week saw the Brighton-based Food Waste Collective’s winter food re-distribution event, ‘Good Food for Good Causes’, during which time we repacked and redistributed just under 2 tonnes of donated food to around 30 charities and community groups from all over the city. The event was our first in the Brighton Open Market, which turned out to be a fantastically public venue and a good site for showcasing the Food Waste Collective to members of the public, as well as helping raise awareness of our partners, such as Plan Zheroes (5), The Gleaning Network (6), Food Warriors (7) and The Real Junk Food Project (8).

This latter group are just launching in Brighton and their aim is to create a full-time café which uses only surplus food to cook tasty and cheap meals for anyone who cares to come by. I went along to help out at their first ever event, where they were catering for Theatre Uncut’s (9) series of plays on themes of social change. The first night of the Theatre Uncut shows was last Thursday which as it happens was also Thanksgiving. As we served out around 100 delicious servings of surplus dinner, the theatre-goers really had something to be grateful for. Less food waste in the city and more food available; something we can all say thanks to!

For more on the Food Waste Collective events, check out my article here. Photos are available to view on David Ashwanden’s page here.

                An important way in which we can help to bring this message to the public is through participative education. Talking to people and finding out their perspective as well as sharing ours is much more effective than telling them what to do, and it was with this in mind that I helped out with a Love Food Hate Waste stall outside a supermarket in Brighton and Hove, during which time we shared tips on cutting down on festive waste as well as listening to others’ feelings on these issues.

A question of logistics

The Real Junk Food Project’s launch was so successful that on the first night we managed to serve out all the food that was cooked that day. A great response, but one which elicited mild panic, as we were doing the catering for the same event on Friday evening as well. This is where the idea of abundance suddenly got really interesting. Around four or five core food-finders put out various feelers, using mainly social media and connections as well as contacting donors who we already knew about. No one was expecting to get enough food for Friday’s event.

So it was somewhat of a surprise when it came to the end of Friday night and the theatre-goers began rolling out of the venue (an old market, as it happened), protesting that they could not possibly take any more soup. We had managed to collect not only enough food to feed everyone; we had plenty to spare and more besides!

While this was in itself a thing to be celebrated, swift action needed to be taken before we became the very thing which the Real Junk Food Project was set up to alleviate: wasters. But who would take around thirty servings of hot soup on a Friday night? Homeless shelters and refuge centres were quickly contacted; with the replies that cooked food could not be accepted as it is difficult to tell what is in it. For some moments, then, we were stumped; until one volunteer had the bright idea of calling some friends who lived nearby and asking them to bring Tupperware. In this way we managed to shift most of the surplus; the remainder making its way to street people we met on the way home, as well as to our own freezers.

Thanksgiving: all year round

The experience with The Real Junk Food Project showed how, when one trusts in abundance, it can proliferate, sometimes a little too wildly. With a little ingenuity (and a lot of plastic containers!), however, it seems possible to always utilise what we have, and to share in the celebration of the abundance of our world.

Right now we are living in times of great excess; this should not necessarily be a cause for concern. When the excess is used correctly and respectfully, we can turn waste into something wonderful. Of course, it would be better if we if not create so much waste in the first place, and perhaps as we become more aware of the significance of what we eat this will surely lessen.

References

  1. Harvest Festival, 2014. ‘Harvest Festivals from around the world’. http://www.harvestfestivals.net/harvestfestivals.htm – retrieved 1/12/14
  2. Smith, M, 2012. ‘Here’s how much food you’re going to waste on Thanksgiving’. Vice News, 26/11/14. https://news.vice.com/article/heres-how-much-food-youre-going-to-waste-on-thanksgiving – retrieved 1/12/14
  3. Zerbe, L, 2012. ‘The worst turkey statistic ever’. Rodale News, 16/11/12. http://www.rodalenews.com/food-waste-facts – retrieved 1/12/14
  4. Smithers, R, 2012. ‘It’s time to cut the obscene amount of Christmas waste’. Guardian, 20/12/12. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/dec/20/obscene-amount-christmas-food-waste – retrieved 1/12/14
  5. Plan Zheroes, 2014. ‘The Idea’. http://www.planzheroes.org/ – retrieved 1/12/14
  6. Feedbback UK, 2014. ‘Gleaning Network’. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/ – retrieved 1/12/14
  7. Facebook, 2014. ‘Food Warriors!!’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/foodwarriors/?fref=ts – retrieved 1/12/14
  8. Facebook, 2014. ‘The Real Junk Food Project Brighton’. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Real-Junk-Food-Project-Brighton/246123485595051?fref=ts – retrieved 1/12/14
  9. Brighton Theatre Uncut, 2014. ‘About’. https://brightontheatreuncut.wordpress.com/ – retrieved 1/12/14

Rejoicing in Abundance

Occasionally I encounter someone who refers to our planet as being one on which scarcity is a problem. It is understandable how you could arrive at this viewpoint; after all, the media in this country often mentions food security issues and there are many people who are hungry, even right in our own home towns.

Institutions such as the idea of global aid seem to exacerbate this view; relying as they do on people in one country or region giving away some of the resources they have to another, seeming to imply that we cannot have all the resources we need right where we are. But is it helpful to see our world like this?

There is a lot of sentiment that scarcity is an illusion; and even an ever-growing body of evidence to show that wherever you are, abundance is a possibility.

The beauty of the world: something we can all esperience. Photo by David Ashwanden

The beauty of the world: something we can all esperience. Photo by David Ashwanden

Possible abundance

Back in 1980, architect, innovator and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller wrote of how thinkers such as Thomas Malthus, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx had managed to influence global conceptions to the point where

“All books on economics have only one basic tenet – the fundamental scarcity of life support. The supreme political and economic powers as yet assume that it has to be you or me.” –R. Buckminster Fuller, 1980 (1)

However, having undertaken a lifetime of research and experiment, he concludes that this conception is based simply on not looking at the wealth of the world in a holistic manner. If we account for all of our resources using what Fuller calls “cosmic accounting” (1) then we are all billionaires.

In the 2012 report to the UN Right to Food, Oliver de Schutter estimated that there is enough food being produced in the world to feed 12 billion people (2). This, even in spite of the fact that our farming methods are so inefficient that in many cases the inputs of oil-based products outweigh the outputs of food (see for example 3), and the current trend of ‘high-yield’ intensive monoculture farming is destroying habitats, ecosystems and soils (soils being something which is generally regarded as a useful substance for growing things in) to the point where, in some places in the UK, soil structure has completely broken down in over 75% of maize fields (4).

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s 2013 report Wake Up Before it’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now (5) explores how changing our agricultural systems will help to build more stable food sources, community development and – crucially – more food production (5). Even before that change is fully implemented, however, there are ways in which we can help to redress the balance.

For if we are all billionaires, and are producing enough food for 12 billion people, why are some still going hungry? Perhaps there are some who are taking more than they need, but there’s only so much excess you can eat, even if you are huge. When we begin examining this, we find that much of the commercial food produced in the world actually does not even get eaten – or come close to being eaten.

Food production for…humans?

                The Institute of Mechanical Engineers estimated in their Global Food Report Waste Not, Want Not that

“30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach” (6)

There are many factors affecting this, from weather patterns to supermarket quotas and the global economy to local fashions in taste, and it is not only the producers who could be more efficient in their production. In many places, the industrialised, ‘high-yield high-input’ farming system means that crops are designed to be intensively grown in monoculture systems aimed at producing a large amount of crops at the same time. This method inherently carries a high risk of waste in it; for a large number of reasons, from higher risks of disease, pests and lack of nutrition involved in monoculture farming (see for example 5) to the practicalities of successfully harvesting and processing what is usually several thousands of individual crops at one time. These are compounded by supermarket regulations on size and quota, which here in the UK are quite specific in a way in which growth is usually not (7). The Soil Association estimate that 20-40% of UK Fruit and vegetables are rejected on “cosmetic grounds” (although who decides these cosmetic grounds is unclear) before they reach the consumer.

Even the slightest deformities may be enough for fruits and vegetables not to make it to the supermarket.

Even the slightest deformities may be enough for fruits and vegetables not to make it to the supermarket.

For more (and more extreme) examples of unusual crops check out the Guardian’s gallery  here

Turning problems into solutions

Luckily, the very complicatedness of the factors affecting why we are wasting so much food is also a fantastic opportunity. These factors show that often producers feel as though they do not have a choice about having to throw away vast amounts of their crops. And sometimes, they may not wish to throw them away. This leaves ample opportunity to take this abundant overflow of stagnating energy and utilise it.

This is exactly what the Gleaning Network (8) are doing. The Network is a campaign made up of volunteer ‘gleaners’, who get into contact with farms which have a surplus of unsellable (but still perfectly edible) crops, and go and pick said crops, distributing them to local charities and community groups who are in need of fresh food through Fareshare (9), a redistribution organisation who intercept food from going to waste all over the country, giving it instead to people who would like to eat it.

The Gleaning Network could only collect the surplus food from the farms if farmers were sympathetic, showing that the food production wastage problem is not as simple as just being the responsibility of the producers. At least there are some producers who see the incongruence, and are taking proactive steps to address it.

But what is this ‘Glean’?

The idea of gleaning is not a new one but dates back, as far as I can tell, to feudal times, or just after the concept of land ownership rather than common land which everyone can use became prevalent in England. I have heard a number of stories of who the original ‘gleaners’ were, and my favourite variation is this: that once the idea of land ‘enclosures’ as a pose to ‘common land’ began becoming steadily more and more popular, in particular around the 14th century (10), suddenly a large amount of the population, who had previously been farming using semi-communal resources on land which was owned by no-one, found themselves instead deemed as trespassers on someone else’s land. Yet the land owners recognised that the people living on what was now their land still needed to survive somehow; and indeed, it would be beneficial to them, the landowners, if the peasants continued to exist, since the landowners needed them. If there were no workers to farm the landowners’ land, the land would not be much use to the landowners. With this in mind the landowners would always purposefully leave a proportion of their crops unharvested in the fields. This would then be gleaned – that is, collected – by those who needed it.

So the Gleaning Network is reviving this practise – with all of the modern twists that the supermarket quotas, the ‘high-yield, high input’ farming systems, and the global economy bring with it. The Gleaners are back: but now instead of a few villagers picking their way across some small be-hedged fields, the Gleaning Network now regularly co-ordinates surplus harvests of upwards of 1 tonne of crops at one time.

Why is this happening?

The extent to which food waste has become commonplace is an indicator that it is perhaps not just one thing which needs to change, rather, that our entire culture could do with looking at from a slightly different perspective. Why do people find it acceptable to throw away what is clearly edible food in the first place? Some may feel it is beyond their control; but even so, it could be seen that this very attitude indicates a marked disrespect for, and lack of connection to, our food.

In his book Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature, Jules Pretty explores the idea that many in our culture may have lost (or temporarily forgotten) the deep significance of the role which food plays in our lives, and how with the simple act of eating, we are communicating in a vast number of ways to the environment, other people and creatures, and of course, our own bodies (11). “As consumers”, Pretty says,

The choices we make send strong signals about the systems of agricultural production that we prefer. We may not realise that we are sending these messages, but we are.” (Pretty, 2002) (11)

Just the simple act of realisation can be incredibly empowering. When you sit down to eat your dinner, do you listen to your body’s reaction to your food to gauge what is the right thing to feed it? Do you rejoice in sharing food, and in the power of the simple act of eating with others? When you procure your food, do you think about the effect this will have on the environment around you, and the other people, plants and creatures in it?

When we begin thinking about these things, it may well transpire that our own strategies of feeding ourselves, from sourcing our food to getting rid of waste, begin changing dramatically. In this way our whole culture of attitudes to food can begin to become healthier, more efficient and more beneficial to us.

One of the key aspects of creating a new culture is to create new stories as part of the culture. In this way we can strengthen our ties to each other, the planet and our food. In order to do this we do not have to disregard everything which comes before us; indeed, this is what makes us up so we have to integrate it in order to move forwards. All of our favourite stories and inspirations will probably be what is most useful here. As Joseph Campbell puts it, we can all make our own myths to help enrich our lives, and when we do,

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path.” (Campbell, 1949) (12)

For me this means following whatever stories I feel I can shape constructively into my own personal mythology in order to create a world of true abundance. With this in mind I began my foray into the world of gleaning. Intrigued? Stay tuned for the next post, where I explore this activity at farm level…

References

  1. Fuller, R.B, 1980. Critical Path. St Martin’s Griffin: New York
  2. Schutter, O, 2013. Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food. United Nation General Assembly: New York
  3. Lamberley, P and Oakeshott, I, 2014. Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. Bloomsbury: London
  4. Monbiot, G, 2014. ‘The farming lobby has wrecked efforts to defend our soil’. Guardian, 5/6/2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/jun/05/the-farming-lobby-has-wrecked-efforts-to-defend-our-soil – retrieved 10/10/14
  5. UN Conference on Trade and Development, 2013. Wake Up Before it is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. United Nations: Geneva. Online copy can be found here: http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf
  6. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2013. “Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not.” IMECHE: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf
  7. Lawrence, F, 2004. Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on your Plate. Penguin: London
  8. Feedback Global, 2014. ‘Gleaning Network’. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/ – retrieved 22/10/14
  9. Fareshare, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.fareshare.org.uk/about_us/ – retrieved 22/10/14
  10. Fairlie, S, 2009. ‘A Short History of enclosures in Britain’. Land Magazine, Issue 7, Summer 2009. http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/short-history-enclosure-britain – – retrieved 22/10/14
  11. Pretty, Jules, 2002. Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature. Earthscan: Oxford
  12. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Fontana Press: London

Feast for Free – The Surplus Harvest Feast at Brighton’s Lantern Fayre Festival

Feast for Free

As the nights begin to exhibit a touch of biting chill and the skies to start dimming greyly, it becomes clear that autumn is approaching fast. The turning of the seasons is traditionally a time of celebrations: of the abundance of nature as we revel in the gifts of the harvest of our crops, and of the fruit and nut trees and hedgerow berries, not to mention myriad edible fungi (1), which are so prolific at this time.

With the growth of the global food system into the vast proliferation of networks which it is today, these traditional celebrations have become less important. Why would the cheery red glint of the apples ripening on the trees have any significance, when an apple being flown thousands of miles across the globe to be picked by you in the fluorescent orchard of your local supermarket has become a routine occurrence? And with more people living in cities, usually with less access to land, than ever before (2), a celebration of harvest time can also seem a little irrelevant.

Modern Abundance

Having lived in both cities, where it can be easy to ignore the seasons, and in rural locations where nature’s rhythm pulses more noticeably, I understand this incongruence. However, I have also noticed that not only are the abundances of harvest-time and of seasonal wild food very much still available to those who live in cities, but that there is an interesting aspect of our industrialised food systems which has produced another kind of abundance as well: one which is becoming increasingly well-publicised in British media (see for example 3 and 4) but which for many remains a relatively unknown phenomena. This is the huge amount of surplus food which is routinely thrown away along the entire supply chain, from farmers to supermarkets and right through to us as consumers.

No one is quite sure how much as figures on these things do not get published. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers published a report last year estimating that globally, 30 – 50% of all commercial agricultural food (1.2 – 2 billion tonnes of food) (5) is wasted before it even reaches the shops, while in the UK, Love Food Hate Waste estimates that 7 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year by households alone (6).

Statistics such as these can induce quite strong emotions, and it is important that we direct these emotions towards creative solutions if we are to help to change the situation to one which is more energy efficient and beneficial. And why not see this amount of food waste in a positive light? It certainly seems as though those throwing away the food could behave differently, but in order for them to do this, the way in which we relate to food must also change (for more on this see for example 1, 7). While this is happening, we can utilise surplus food not to fill up bins, but as a glorious opportunity.

A new kind of harvest

There are many groups who are intercepting this perfectly good food from being thrown away, and who are keen to highlight the issues around why businesses deem it necessary to bin edible foods. It is with this in mind that the Brighton-based Food Waste Collective organised the Surplus Harvest Feast, a huge extravaganza of surplus food, cooked up and served for free to the public with great ceremony and celebration during last weekend’s community arts festival, the Lantern Fayre.

Fayre Food

                The idea of the event was to raise awareness of the large amount of surplus food which exists in Brighton and Hove alone. As the Feast’s co-ordinator, Debbie Hardy, pointed out, with just a handful of volunteers collecting surplus fruit, vegetables, and dry grains and beans we managed to redirect just under half a tonne of ingredients into around 1200 servings of hot, tasty meals (8).

The day was bright and sunny and the word had clearly got around. As volunteers scurried around inside the tent making last-minute cooking preparations, locating aprons and ladling meals into serving-pots, interested festival-goers began crowding in so thickly that the stewards had to intervene to hold them back. The Great Serving Up was scheduled for 2pm, and at 1.45pm the queue was already stretching out far beyond the food tent’s confines; snaking away across the Level park, and taking up half of the space of the festival. Clearly, the attraction of a free meal was one which was too good to miss.

Sharing Stories

One of my favourite aspects of the Feast is the idea of so many people all eating the same food at the same time. The importance of sharing and appreciating food is something which may get somewhat forgotten in our culture; one reason perhaps why people do not mind throwing it away, because they do not place as much significance on it as they could. In her book Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature, Jules Pretty suggests that it is this appreciation and gratitude which is needed in order to revive our sense of community and re-think our global food networks towards ones of abundance for everyone (7).

A very simple way to do this is to share a meal with someone; it does not matter who. When we share food we are all connecting to the same primal energy; a fact which we may not consciously notice but which almost invariably affects us both physically and mentally. When we extrapolate this to sharing a meal with hundreds of others, the effects can be quite profound. I certainly felt more of a deep appreciation for the food from the Feast which I ate yesterday knowing how many other happy bellies were being sustained by the exact same fare as mine. The sensation is quite magical.

The effect which the Feast had on each individual who partook of the food served at the Lantern Fayre can probably never be fully known, but it is clear that the reverberations of this action are spreading in many directions. I spoke to a few people briefly about their take on the Feast, with many positive reactions. A large proportion were very keen to get involved with the Food Waste Collective and help with future actions, while some had their own ideas for new creative ways to highlight food surplus and at the same time fulfil the deep human need we have to connect with each other and to the natural world which sustains us. And, perhaps even more importantly, everyone who I spoke to was enjoying the food itself!

More Feasting!

It is not only the Food Waste Collective who create such dynamic and interactive events as these. All over the world, groups and individuals are helping to re-dress the balance of food poverty vs. food waste, not by lamenting the statistics or by condemning producers or consumers, but using much more positive and creative methods. One example is the UK-based organisation This is Rubbish, who create arts installations and plays around the theme of food waste. At the moment they are touring around with their new Scratch Feast play; next showing this weekend in London. For more information, see (9).

The Surplus Harvest Feast and the Scratch Feast are just two examples of how we can bring to light just how much abundance there is here in the UK, and how, with just a little imagination, we can share this abundance out beautifully and resourcefully. There are many, many other ways in which we can address this. The only limit is our imagination. Ideas, anyone?

References

  1. Haworth, Charlotte, 2014. ‘The Importance of Eating Food’. Permaculture News, 26/09/14. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/09/26/importance-eating-food/ – retrieved 06/10/14
  2. People and the Planet, 2014. ‘The world comes to town.’ http://www.peopleandtheplanet.com/index.html@lid=26729&section=40&topic=44.html – retrieved 05/10/4
  3. Reece, A, 2014. “Supermarkets to publish food waste data”. Resource, 29/01/14. http://resource.co/business/article/supermarkets-publish-food-waste-data – retrieved 23/09/14
  4. Sayid, R, 2014. “Seven supermarket chains including Tesco and Asda vow to reveal how much they bin each year”. Daily Mail, 30/01/14. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/supermarket-waste-seven-chains-including-3092194 – retrieved 23/09/14
  5. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2013. “Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not.” IMECHE: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf
  6. Love Food Hate Waste, 2014. ‘UK Food Waste Statistics’. http://england.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/2472 – retrieved 05/10/4
  7. Pretty, Jules, 2002. Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Earthscan: Oxford
  8. Interview with Debbie Hardy, 06/10/14.
  9. This is Rubbish, 2014. ‘Scratch Feasts this October’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/theatrical-scratch-feasts-this-october/ – retrieved 06/10/14