Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Debate Over Food Waste and Hunger in Britain

Photo: Real Food Project Web site
Adam Smith, founder of The Real Junk Food Project, in Armley, Leeds, feeds his punters on goods that would otherwise have been thrown away by supermarkets, independent grocers and food banks. The 29-year-old trained chef cooks up stews, casseroles, soups and cakes with the unwanted food, charging a “pay as you feel” policy - allowing punters to pay what they feel they can, and if that is nothing, they can help with the washing up.

In just 10 months he has fed 10,000 people on 20 tonnes of unwanted food, raising over £30,000. The cafe has had such resonance in a world with such high food wastage and high hunger levels it has inspired 47 other "pay as you feel" cafes to spring in the past few months in Manchester, Bristol, Saltaire – with the concept even exported as far away as Los Angeles and Brazil, Warsaw and Zurich.
Article in The Independent newspaper, December 16, 2014

Punter is not a word we use frequently in the United States. According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online, the word refers to "a customer; a user of services or buyer of goods." This is something that we probably deduced from context as we read the above quote.

Regardless of whether we call them punters or clients, these are real people who are experiencing hunger and are finding relief in a creative project developed by Adam Smith.  Food waste is a big part of the overall debate on food insecurity in Britain (as it is in the United States and many other parts of the Western world).  Regulations that are designed to protect the consuming public are forcing establishments in Britain to throw out vast amounts of food that is still edible.

The article in The Independent centers on the efforts of Adam Smith, a trained chef, to collect some of  the food that has been disposed (even breaking some food-safety laws) and using it to prepare meals for low-income patrons of his cafe in Leeds. Through his efforts, other similar eateries have sprung up in Britain and other countries.

"We believe it is indefensible that huge numbers of people are going hungry in a country which wastes such vast quantities of food that is fit for consumption," said an all-party report into Hunger in Britain whilst urging the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to set food retailers and manufacturers targets of doubling the proportion of surplus food they redistribute to food assistance providers and other voluntary organisations," said the newspaper.

The big picture
While the report highlighted Smith's heroic efforts, The Independent did not neglect the big picture. "The publication of [the] all-party report into Hunger in Britain  revealed 4m people in the UK were at risk of going hungry, while 3.5m adults could not afford to feed themselves properly, and 272 food banks had sprung up across the UK," said the article. "Britain experienced the highest rate of food inflation in the world the report said, rising 47% since 2003, compared with 30.4% in the United States, 22.1% in Germany and 16.7% in France."

Britain and other European countries are dealing with an increase in food insecurity in a similar manner as we are here in the United States, and the British faith community has launched a campaign to highlight and address the problem The factors driving the increase in hunger are familiar--an increase in unemployment, the growth in poverty and an unfair economic system that favors the wealthy. And there is similar pushback from conservative legislators who are resisting efforts to increase funding for programs that help low-income families deal with hunger.

"After the report was released, Conservative peer Baroness Jenkin of Kennington sparked controversy by saying that hunger in Britain was caused in part because people didn't know how to cook."

See the full article in The Independent  The Daily Mail also ran a piece on the Leeds cafe.

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