Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A new type of food waste in Supermarkets

EMERGE Recycling

I find myself wondering about the levels of food waste in supermarkets across the country as a result of the increase in availability, and range of pre-prepared food. Visiting a large supermarket recently I was taken aback by the range of food that had been diced, sliced or grated then encased in plastic. 

Not only is this food more expensive, less nutritious (vitamin levels are reduced when veg and fruit is cut up), it is also far more likely to be wasted.  Anyone who has bought a butternut squash, or grown a pumpkin will know that if it is stored well it can keep, literally for months.  In comparison, a plastic packet of squash will only keep for a matter of days – and that’s only if it makes its way into someone’s fridge.  Given the costs of this sort of pre-prepared food – it’s the labour for doing the peeling and dicing and packaging and transporting that makes it more expensive – exactly how much of this type of pre-prepared food is being disposed of at the back of individual stores I wonder?  It is very difficult to get supermarkets to disclose how much food is wasted in their supply chain, so…

Next time you go into a supermarket, check out the range of pre-prepared food and ask the store manager what happens to it when it is passed its sell by date. Please post their reply here, or tweet it with @FareShareNW and #stopfoodwaste in your tweet!

Debbie Ellen

Friday, 25 January 2013

2013: The Year of Environmental Action?

Actually, it’s the Year of the Snake. But let’s not let that mess up my snappy title. 

For EMERGE and little sister FareShare North West, 2012 was a year of productivity, progress and success. FareShare NW's 'thank you' event at the end of November particularly highlighted the success that can be made if people come together to fight for a worthwhile cause. Elsewhere, EMERGE's Lucy and FareShare's Seb became mini-celebrities, finding themselves in numerous TV interviews and radio interviews throughout the year. And, who could forget, Lucy cycled 950 miles from Land's End to John O'Groats, raising well over £6000 for FareShare in total. She's just about recovered now.  

So, onto 2013. It’s January. This time of year is always thought to encapsulate some sort of increased optimism among the general population. Hope for the future. Hope for change for the better. What usually happens, however, is a brief sense of increased motivation, a huge increase in gym memberships shortly followed by a huge decrease in gym memberships, and a return to normality. But can 2013 be different?

For environmentalists, it already seems to be bringing change. Food waste has hit the headlines, not just once, but again and again and again and again. Global campaigns have already kicked off here and here. Will this be the year when the world stands up to fight food waste?

A primetime Channel 4 documentary on Monday also highlighted the role of supermarkets in this story. It’s not surprising that of the £1.4 billion spent on food by Britons last year, £1.2 billion of it went straight into supermarket coffers. This is a distressing fact when you consider that many blame these supermarkets for our food waste culture. Will this be the year when people start shopping at local markets again?

On other environmental fronts, 2013 is already bringing further progress. The Green Deal is imminent and, closer to home, Manchester’s Carbon Literacy project is set to be rolled out in the coming months (watch out for e-learning in March!). In the meantime, EMERGE is offering Carbon Literacy workshops to customers free of charge up until 31st March! (please contact Liz on 0161 223 8200 for more info). Maybe this is a time to optimistic after all!

All we need now is a clear rebuttal of Fracking (let’s be honest, ‘fracking’ is best left as a linguistic toy for novelty t-shirts) and for Barack Obama to truly throw his weight behind climate change action in the US. Give me that and 2013 may just be the best year yet. 

The Contemporary Caveman

Monday, 21 January 2013

Cook at home or eat takeaways?

EMERGE Recycling

At EMERGE we’re looking at working with FareShare Community Food Members (CFMs) to offer cookery classes to people, many of whom are in food poverty.

One question that comes up all the time, in discussions about food, healthy diets, the cost of food, etc, is the comparative cost of cooking ‘from scratch’ or buying a ready meal or takeaway.  

Having a quick look online I came across this which raises some interesting issues.

One key issue people on low incomes talk about all the time is the combined cost of the different ingredients that prevents them from cooking from scratch, which is where economics start to affect people’s choices.  If you only have a certain amount in your purse and no further money available until next week what would you do? Buy a ready meal for a pound (knowing the quality is poor) or buy all the ingredients to make the same meal?  Yes, you’ll have those ingredients for other meals, but right now, you don’t have the money to buy them all. 

What is the solution to this dilemma?  At EMERGE, we think the answer is cookery classes and clubs to share knowledge about how to cook affordable meals from scratch AND a store cupboard of recipe ingredients at class/club venues that people can access in the quantities they need so they can have the option of cooking for their family. Food Co-ops or buying groups are another way to keep the cost of food as low as possible and empower communities at the same time.

Debbie Ellen

Friday, 18 January 2013

Food Waste in the headlines

EMERGE Recycling

Last week food waste, on a global scale hit the headlines in the UK. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IME) published a report titled GLOBAL FOOD WASTE NOT, WANT NOT .

To quote the report:

“Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance. For example, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of such practices. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way.

Of the produce that does appear in the supermarket, commonly used sales promotions frequently encourage customers to purchase excessive quantities which, in the case of perishable foodstuffs, inevitably generates wastage in the home. Overall between 30% and 50% of what has been bought in developed countries is thrown away by the purchaser. Controlling and reducing the level of wastage is frequently beyond the capability of the individual farmer, distributor or consumer, since it depends on market philosophies, security of energy supply, quality of roads and the presence of transport hubs. These are all related more to societal, political and economic norms, as well as better-engineered infrastructure, rather than to agriculture. In most cases the sustainable solutions needed to reduce waste are well known.

The challenge is transferring this know-how to where it is needed, and creating the political and social environment which encourages both transfer and adoption of these ideas to take place.” (page 3 of the report)

There is a lack of referencing in the report to support these points, but interestingly, the figure of 30% of the UK vegetable crop not harvested quoted above matches an estimate given to EMERGE by a farmer who is donating graded out food to FareShare North West. We went to visit the farmer in November to make a film, as part of the NESTA Waste Reduction Challenge and asked him how much of his crops, in a good year are ploughed back because they don’t meet specifications. His reply was 30%.

EMERGE’s entry into the NESTA Waste Reduction Challenge is to capture some of this food and by doing so to tackle food waste, food poverty and worklessness in the North West.  We are one of 25 semi finalists hoping to be selected as a finalist (one of 5). If successful we will test our idea, which is to bring outgraded food into New Smithfield Market, distribute it to people in food poverty and offer volunteering, work placements and apprenticeships processing surplus food in an onsite kitchen.  You can see our short film about this idea here: https://vimeo.com/55705086.

We are seeking to do exactly what the IME report calls for, so let’s hope that we’re given the opportunity to test the idea!

Debbie Ellen