Eight million people in the UK struggle to put food on the table. That’s one in 10 of us unsure how we’ll afford tonight’s dinner, or one in six parents steadying themselves for a night without food so their kids can eat.
At the same time, our food and drink industry wastes 1.9 million tonnes of food each year, chucking out perfectly good food minutes past its best-before date, or rejecting produce for the silliest, saddest of reasons.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if one could solve the other?
At first glance, it looks so blindingly obvious. Redirect piles of food surplus to those struggling in food poverty and, hey presto, one cancels out the other. It’s why so often food waste stats are effortlessly conflated with the rapid rise in food banks, as if our wasteful habits are the cause of rising, heart-breaking levels of food insecurity.
Sadly, it just isn’t that simple. As pointed out today in a new report from Sustain, though surplus groceries may provide immediate relief, there is zero evidence to suggest they help stamp out food poverty in the long run. In fact, the evidence shows it can even allow governments off the hook on the need to provide meaningful legislative changes to welfare, employment and family support. Meanwhile businesses producing waste breathe a big, complacent sigh of relief, merrily wasting food as they did before, safe in the knowledge they’ve found a publicly acceptable solution.
Don’t get me wrong. Where surplus exists it should go straight to charity networks such as that run by the brilliant FareShare. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking this is a long-term solution for either food waste or food poverty.
The ultimate aim should be to stamp out food waste at its source. And for UK food and drink that means both manufacturers and retailers taking a good, hard look at their supply chain, where 89% of that 1.9 million tonnes is currently wasted. It means an end to dumping food waste on CSR teams, and instead installing operational changes throughout a business to cut waste.
We aren’t all talk at The Grocer. As part of the Waste Not Want Not campaign, we’re determined to provide ongoing inspiration on how this can be achieved, and this month we’ll be hosting our first ever webinar to do just that. Free for all, this video debate at 11am on 22 February will feature top experts from Unilever, Tesco, FareShare and Company Shop thrashing out the major challenges in fighting manufacturing food waste, what they’ve learned, what they could do better and what’s next.
Not only that, we want to ask them the questions you want the answer to.