With the impending trial of Paul May, the man who has faced charges for taking food out of supermarket bins, Freeganism and food management have both been regular topics of discussion in recent times. On one side, there are those that are determined to uphold the law and ensure that property rights remain strong and stable. On the other, there are those who claim supermarkets need to raise their game tenfold if they really want to solve the conundrum, and that civilians like Mr. May are everyday heroes. One thing is for certain: stunning amounts of food find its way into bins on a regular basis.
Whilst these parties are busy debating the point and involved in the constant exchange of ripostes, there are those out there who have decided that more than words are needed if there is going to be any progress. Some have taken direct action to raise awareness, spreading the word to others and making campaigns to turn popular support into political currency. They’re the crusaders of this righteous cause and they will keep on until they see change.
Then, there are those that have found a practical way to help. An organization by the name of Food Cycle is one of them, and its quietly changing the way we think about food. They’ve been flying under the radar, valuing the charity that they give more than the grand debate surrounding it.
Inspired by the Campus Kitchens Project in the United States, FoodCycle was founded by Kelvin Cheung back in 2008. The concept was simple: help the needy by feeding them with food that would otherwise find itself in the bin. What sets them head and shoulders over like-minded individuals however is their realistic implementation of such an idea. To take the food from the bins has legal ramifications, as Mr. May has discovered. That’s why Food Cycle works with the supermarkets, forming partnership deals where weekly collections are organized from big names such as Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. The growing cooperation from industry giants like these is a testament to the desire that all parties share: a desire to make huge improvements with stock rotation and see that food is properly used.
Since they started cooking in May 2009, Food Cycle have racked up some incredible numbers: over 82,000 meals have been served and over 90,000 kg of food (the equivalent of saving 382,500kg in CO2 emissions) has been reclaimed and put to good use. Perhaps even more amazing is that over 1,200 volunteers have given 64,000 hours of their time. That’s almost 2,000 hours of time given for free every month by concerned citizens who simply want to make a difference.
With only a brief glance at the facts, one can see why many feel so very passionate about the issue. An estimated 15 million tons of food in Britain are involved, and changing this would be the CO2 equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road. However at least 400,000 tons of usable surplus food can be saved from supermarkets each year. More than 4 million people are affected by ‘food poverty’ in the UK and over 500,000 now access food banks in order to supplement what their modest earnings can provide. Nutritional complications are estimated to cost the NHS £13bn per year.
Food Cycle is aiming to provide a national community-led infrastructure that can save surplus food from the landfill and give it to those who need it. They’re already out there, making a difference, changing lives. In a few years time, they may well be heralded as the vanguard of a change in society so enormous that the very perceptive the public has of food.
What do you think big business’ responsibility is when it comes to food management?