With record numbers of people relying on charities to eat, the debate about food poverty in the UK has intensified. In September 2013 Michael Gove controversially claimed that those who use such charities ‘have only got themselves to blame’ for mismanaging their finances. More recently Iain Duncan Smith has been engaged in a heated, public row with the charity sector about UK food poverty. On the other side of the debate, in Walking the breadline, food poverty is described as a ‘national disgrace’. Some would argue that, long before the controversy and debate, there have always been demographic groups for whom accessing food is profoundly difficult in the UK. For example, homeless people, those addicted to drugs and alcohol and those fleeing domestic abuse.
In this context it is especially devastating that an estimated 3.9 million tonnes of food were wasted by the UK grocery sector in 2011. Our research on the national food redistribution charity FareShare, published today, highlights a simple yet creative and effective solution to the dual problems of food waste and food poverty. FareShare redistribute surplus food from the UK food industry to frontline charities and community groups. This is food that is fit for human consumption but has superficial faults; it might have been erroneously packed, been over-ordered by a supermarket or just have a short shelf life. It is mainly fresh produce that FareShare redistribute; fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy. Regardless of your political persuasion, saving good quality, nutritious food from being dropped into a landfill site is surely a good thing.
The portfolio of charities and groups in receipt of FareShare food is diverse. For instance, our research included case studies of charities that cater specifically for young people, women who had experienced domestic violence, elderly people, those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and homeless people. In delivering food through specialist charities, with skilled and experienced staff, the FareShare model provides valuable flexibility. For example, for women who have fled abusive relationships, going somewhere public like a supermarket or food bank puts them at risk of being found by their former partners. Receiving FareShare food through a discreetly located charity greatly reduces this risk.
With the FareShare model, beneficiaries generally eat food onsite, in a communal setting, rather than taking it home. For beneficiaries recovering from drug and alcohol addiction the opportunity to mix with others over meals recreates the intimacy previously experienced within their own family homes. A beneficiary we spoke to described the ‘family feeling’ created by communal meals and said eating at the charity he used was ‘like being at home with [his] kids again’. This model also enables beneficiaries to access complementary services to help address challenging situations they might be experiencing.
Firmly lodged in amongst the debate and controversy about food poverty is a fact; food poverty in the UK exists, in some guise, yet fit-for-purpose food is wasted. Our research proves that FareShare’s flexible model, with communal eating at its core, can work. FareShare is making tangible steps towards realising their core belief that ‘no good food should be wasted’.