The British Nutrition Foundation linked up with UKHarvest* and innocent drinks to look at food redistribution: aiming to decrease food waste and increase fruit and veg intake in those in most need.
In this blog we want to recognise the remarkable organisations that are working in communities developing ingenious and resourceful ways to repurpose surplus food and provide nutritious, healthy and reliable foods to help those in need.
Food is fundamental. It is essential to our physical and mental health. The adverse consequences of a poor diet are well established and have short- and long-term implications. But food is more than just nutrition. It is also an expression of identity and central to social inclusion, a sense of belonging and participation in society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted stark inequalities in health and drawn attention to food insecurity or food poverty. These terms are used to describe the ‘inability to afford, or to have access to, food to make up a healthy diet’ or ‘to consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.’ Despite being a high-income country, the Food Foundation recently reported (April 2022) that 7.3 million adults in the UK experienced food insecurity and that over 2.6 million children live in households that have experience food insecurity in the past month (1). Food poverty is far-reaching and has an impact detrimental to many communities. The rise in poverty over the last few years has seen an increased demand for emergency food provision such as delivered by food banks, as well as other voluntary initiatives helping people to access food that they would otherwise not be able to obtain.
Yet a huge amount of edible food is lost to food waste and it may be shocking to realise that 70% of food waste happens at home (2).
Waste by sector
- 6.6 million tonnes (70%) from households
- 1.5 million tonnes (16%) from manufacturers
- 1.1 million tonnes (12%) from hospitality and food service (HaFS)
- 0.3 million tonnes (3%) from the retail industry
WRAP recently reported that about £2.7bn-worth of fresh fruit and vegetables is thrown away in UK homes each year (3).
When we throw away leftover edible food, we waste not only the food itself, but all of the natural resources, energy and labour involved in producing, storing and transporting that food in the first place. And if food goes to the landfill and rots, it produces methane - a potent greenhouse gas.
The paradox that tonnes of food is wasted while people go hungry has raised increasing concern. Food poverty has a profound effect on a family’s ability to afford fresh produce. Studies have found that food insecure adults consume fewer fruits and vegetables and have less healthy diets in general, compared to food secure adults. The health benefits of eating fruit and veg are well known. The evidence consistently suggests that eating at least 5 portions of fruit and veg lowers the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancers (4). If everyone in the UK got their recommended fruit & veg, that we could prevent almost half the estimated 33,000 premature deaths that come from diet-related diseases each year (5).
With rising household bills, fresh fruit and vegetables may often be items cut from the budget. The work of food distribution charities can contribute to alleviating hunger in the short term, with delivery of fresh surplus foods helping to improve dietary variety and boost intake of healthy foods including fruit and vegetables.
In the voluntary sector, redistribution of surplus food has risen to meet the dual concerns of food waste and increased food insecurity. Food redistribution charities have also broadened their activities from food provision to include education, cooking, and training programmes. These can help bring together local communities to engage around food, equipping people with essential skills to cook and learn more about healthy eating. Being able to get a meal rather than just raw ingredients is also an important step for those who lack cooking facilities and those living with food and fuel poverty. These combined processes - tackling hunger, isolation and preventing waste, using community space, and developing the potential of local people in the community providing culinary learning and training opportunities – can further set precedents of good practice. innocent for example has been working with UKHarvest, a charity with a mission to eliminate hunger and reduce food waste through the redistribution of quality surplus food and nutrition education and training. In March, together, they delivered a cook off combining surplus smoothies with rescued veg at The Nourish Hub in Shepherds Bush. This is a community food space and kitchen that provide opportunities for local people to come together to cook, eat and learn about how to eat more healthily, and that offers learning and training opportunities to local people.
While there are clear benefits to diverting surplus food away from landfill to help feed those experiencing food poverty, it is important that we understand the systematic problem of food surplus and waste in the broader food chain and that ‘food’ is not seen as the solution to ‘poverty’ without considering how food supply and affordability fit into wider local economic strategies. In the meantime, we must recognise and applaud the redistribution food charities who have stepped in and are working so hard to stop good food from going to waste and diverting it to support many vulnerable people and families from going hungry.
*UKHarvest - Food rescue and education charity https://www.ukharvest.org.uk/ @UKHarvest
(1) Food Foundation (2022) Food Insecurity Tracking Round 10 April 2022 https://foodfoundation.org.uk/initiatives/food-insecurity-tracking
(2) Wrap (2020) Food surplus and waste in the UK https://wrap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-11/Food-surplus-and-waste-in-the-UK-key-facts-Jan-2020.pdf
(3) Wrap (2018) Household food waste: restated data for 2007-2015 https://wrap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-03/WRAP-Household-food-waste-restated-data-2007-2015_0.pdf
(4) NHS (2018) Why 5 A DAY? https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/5-a-day/why-5-a-day/
(5) Scarborough, P., Nnoaham, K., Clarke, D., Capewell, S., Rayner, M. (2010) Modelling the impact of a healthy diet on cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 66, pp 420-426
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