| Sid Astbury |
London (dpa) – Volunteers in the north of England city of Manchester pile out of a borrowed van with 1,272kg of cauliflowers they saved from being ploughed back into a farmer’s field.
An hour’s drive west along the M62 motorway, more camp-aigners against food waste take delivery of 610kg of chocolate that a wholesaler wanted to dump.
In London’s Trafalgar Square, a theatre group called ‘This is Rubbish’ entertain the crowd while giving away smoothies made from a tonne of fruit that supermarkets wanted rid of.
Britain, where an estimated 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year, has people so aggrieved at the waste they are mobilising to try and stop it.
A grassroots campaign is on to change the culture in a country with an estimated six million people whose finances are so fragile that they regularly have to choose between eating and heating.
“What gets me is how devalued food has become,” Corin Bell, who organised the Manchester cauliflower rescue, said. “It’s become acceptable to throw away something as valuable to human existence as food.”
Bell is with a direct-action group, The Real Junk Food Project, and she lives by its no-waste principles.
“I’ve made a bit of a decision that, while I do buy some food occasionally – there are luxuries like fresh coffee that I can’t really live without – I try to avoid buying food, because it adds to the system,” she said.
Adam Bell, who intercepted the chocolate, runs the project’s café in Leeds.
It turns over a tonne of rescued food a week and only asks diners to pay what they feel they owe.
“We collect food, we give it to people and we let them pay whatever they want,” he said. “You look into a person’s eyes and that person may not have food for the rest of the day and is relying on you to live, basically.”
Martin Bowman runs Gleaning Network UK, which worked with drama group ‘This is Rubbish’ to put on the Trafalgar Square happening.
The network has connected with growers around the country to save around 90 tonnes of fruit and vegetables from going to waste since it was formed in 2009.
Bowman organises gleaning weekends and, through a project called the Pig Idea, collects food that really is past its best and delivers it to piggeries.
“We never glean anything they could otherwise have sold,” he said. “Farmers tell us they used to have markets for this lower-grade stuff but there aren’t as many independents around. If they’re growing for supermarket contracts, they can’t get rid of all their produce and they have to leave it in the field.”
Bell borrowed the vans for the weekend cauliflower harvest from FareShare and most of the vegetables saved went into the warehouses of Britain’s biggest food reclaimer.
FareShare, set up 20 years ago, reckons to handle around 1.5 per cent of surplus food available in the country and to feed over 60,000 needy people each day with produce that would otherwise be thrown away.
The food goes to 1,290 fellow charities who pay to be part of the scheme.
Some gleaners see FareShare as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
“We’ll never pay for food, because that’s classed as waste,” Smith said. “We don’t believe in it ethically and morally.”
He insists that there is a superabundance of leftover food and that food should be free.
“We’ve got so much food we need people to come and take it from us before we have to compost it,” he said. “We encourage people to come to us before they go out shopping and stop this food going to waste.”
Smith recalls one patron insisting on taking just a couple of packets of casserole seasoning that he was giving away, fearing he would be depriving others despite the mountain of 40,000 packets donated to the project.
“You have to get out of this way of thinking that you’re taking food from other people’s mouths because I can go and get another 40,000 packets tomorrow,” Smith said. “Our angle is that we’re not here to feed people; we’re here to abolish food waste, but we can also feed people on the back of it.”
Sam Joseph, also with the project, has just opened his own café in the south-west city of Bristol.
It is called Skipchen because at least some of the meals will come from food procured from the skips at the back of supermarkets where so much produce gets dumped.
Joseph is living proof that you don’t need money to eat in Britain.
For the four years Joseph was at university he relied on scavenging from skips, making a point of never buying a meal and sharing what he found.
“People who work in this sector, don’t hoard things,” Bell said. “There’s not a single person working in food waste that thinks they can save the world on their own. Nobody tramps around muddy fields and goes through bins for the glory of it. We just think food waste is utterly ridiculous.”