Gleaners, scavengers, collectors are amongst the names coined for the recycled food retailers who do their bit to curb the 90 million tonnes of wasted food in the EU each year.
Food wastage is a problem that plagues the likes of many businesses, governments and households worldwide. Not only does the idea of ´food wastage´ sound damaging, it actually is. All the energy, water and packaging used in food production goes to waste when we throw away perfectly good food. Perfectly good food that could be eaten by the hundreds and thousands of malnourished people around the world.
The consumer culture of the 21st century has engulfed society´s rational idea of moderation and necessity. With more products available in the West than people can physically consume, it is no wonder that half of them end up down the sink, in the bin or left rotting in a saucepan. A report released in 2007 indicated that 37 per cent of people didn’t know the difference between ´best before´ and ´use by´. It’s no surprise, then, that 37 per cent of binned food is chucked with adequate eating time still left on the clock. People buy more, eat more and leave more just because they can, just because it’s available.
The days of rations and sharing food with the neighbours may be far behind us, yet we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss their benefits. Self-sufficiency, healthier lifestyles, and less environmental pollution are just a few of the added benefits that came with a smaller market and less product availability.
Nobody is saying that we have to go back to war-time rationing to reduce food wastage, but how have we gone from having so little to too much; where is the middle ground in between? The idea behind recycled food retailers is to simply raise awareness about the unnecessary amounts of wasted food and to distribute edible, often tasty food to those who may not be as fortunate.
Two successful examples in the UK are Bristol’s Skipchen and the Real Junk Food Project in Leeds. Both community based projects rely on food donations from restaurants or on food collected from supermarkets when they are throwing out stock for the night. Even foods as expensive as caviar, truffles and smoked salmon have crept their way into the kitchens. In both cases, the teams of volunteers produce tasty, sometimes delicious dishes for a varying clientele, using whatever they can find. The menu changes daily, based on what produce is available and the customers pay whatever they feel is right or whatever they can afford.
This summer, the Stokes Croft native Skipchen went one step further to demonstrate how far our wasted food can go – as far as Dover then across the Channel to Calais. They spent a week offering refugees tasty meals made from UK refuse. And to think that could have all gone in the sack!
Projects started in England are not the only ones of their nature, and neither should they be. Food wastage can no longer be swept under the carpet or buried at numerous landfill sites. We must ask ourselves, how should and how does a nation treat its food?