For many years I have been bothered by the subject of food poverty or more recently the food insecurity so many of us are experiencing. The very fact that there are people who can’t afford to put a decent meal on the table, parents going without so that their children can eat and the reality of having to choose between bills and a basic need is unfortunately as relevant today as in the last few decades.
With an already fragile economy we’ve navigated Brexit, a global pandemic, and an unstable political party whose motto turned out to be ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Two years ago, we learnt a new word - Furlow. This year we have learnt a new phrase – The cost-of-living crisis. Yet again the subject of food and affordability has raised its unwanted head.
Growing up I was protected from the harsh realities of food insecurity. We always had enough, and the subject wasn’t part of our everyday existence. That is until images of starvation started to appear on our TV screens. Being a teenager in the 1980’s saw me suddenly exposed to news reports from Ethiopia. Due to years of Civil war, drought, and an inability of the government to control the grain market, Ethiopia was hurtling towards Famine. Harrowing and difficult scenes of emaciated children and babies filled every news report. It was nothing short of heart-breaking.
In 1985 the front man for the band The Boomtown Rats, Bob Geldof, had had enough. He was as incensed by what he was seeing as the rest of us and used his creativity and passion to find a solution to ease and support the deadly famine that was playing out in Africa. Together with his friend Midge Ure (from the band Ultravox), he pulled together the biggest names in Rock and Pop and staged the once in a lifetime concert, Live Aid. Queen, Wham, The Who and many more were just some of the acts who took part in the marathon 16-hour concert that spanned both the UK and the US and was broadcast to 160 countries. Geldof wrote the song ‘do they know it’s Christmas? Under the charity Band Aid which featured similarly familiar artists. Live aid raised $127 million, and Band Aid raised $24 million.
Fast forward 30 years and the spotlight is now on our own communities, our neighbours, family and friends. Individually we may be struggling to feed ourselves. We’re not experiencing famine and there is no lack of availability of food, but we are in a crisis.
In 1967 the US opened its first food bank, and the Trussell Trust opened its first UK food bank in 2000. Foodbanks have served as a lifeline for people on low incomes and the number of food banks in the UK are increasing year on year. There once was a stigma felt by those using such services, as if they’d failed somehow, having to rely on handouts. But there is no shame in wanting to eat and I for one would not hesitate to get help where it is available. In fact, I can write with confidence about one food initiative that is close to my heart.
In October 2021 I signed up to volunteer for a food initiative based in Kidlington, Oxfordshire called the Cherwell Larder https://www.cherwellcollective.com/about-us/cherwell-larder/ The brain child of American born Emily Connelly which started from her garage and now runs 3 days a week in the local community centre. Surplus food is collected from the main food hub in Oxford, independent businesses, and donations.
In the UK we throw away 9.5 million tons of food waste in a single year. 8.4 million people in the UK are in food poverty. The Cherwell larder is part of a movement that prevents useable food going to land fill and in turn goes directly to the people who visit the larder.
You don’t need to apply to come. Simply fill in a form to register and then turn up. The larder runs a café alongside the food hall using surplus food to serve some of the tastiest meals I’ve ever had. We ask for a donation but if you are struggling, we’ll never turn you away. The recent rise in food prices (currently food inflation has risen to over 14%) has seen the number of users grow and across the county the amount of food initiatives like the larder has risen from 100 to 200 in a couple of years. Because of this our current challenge is not getting enough or the variety of food that we were getting a couple of months ago. Surplus is now being spread thin.
Supermarkets are better at redistributing surplus food, food arriving in wrong packaging, food past its sell by date (but still safe to eat) or foods that have been discontinued, but there is still so much more that can be done.’ It’s estimated that UK supermarkets donate over 7,800 tonnes. Sainsburys leads the way with 7.6% of its food donated. Tesco’s who pledged to end edible food waste by the end of 2018 ended 2019 with 81% of all surplus food going to humans or animals.
According to Eco and Beyond
‘Retailers in Spain and France are doing better. They donate 118,000 and 100,000 of food respectively. France has even banned supermarkets from throwing out edible food’
It is my hope and the aim of many that as the cost-of-living crisis tightens its belt we can find creative ways to work with what we already have sitting in the warehouses of the UK’s grocery supply chain. Food is a basic need.
If you are struggling to buy food look for your local foodbank or one of the many larders, fridges and pantries that now operate across the country.