Food poverty, at it’s current rate and extent, is being experienced in all levels of society, in many cases for the first time. Nigel Hughes, Chief Executive of YMCA Wirral (traditionally considered an area of deprivation) told the all-party parliamentary group on food hunger and poverty “This area has had a number of problems with deprivation for a long time…it has never, ever reached the point as it has recently where deprivation necessitates the urgent forming of a food bank.” 1 Comparatively wealthy areas such as Berkshire have also experienced unprecedented food poverty. The social responsibility advisor to the Diocese of Oxford described to the same parliamentary group a “woman in the advanced stages of pregnancy and her partner living in a child’s toy tent in winter, with nothing to eat.” 2
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest foodbank network demonstrate the shocking reliance of poor families on charitable food donations with this excellent infographic at the top of the page. For the first time in it’s history the charity assisted 913,138 adults and children with three day emergency rations in the 2013-2014 year, compared with 346,992 in the 2012-2013 year. 3 An increase of 263% in just twelve months.
These figures are worrying, and raise the questions; just how can we raise the profile of food poverty and the need to tackle it? How can we make this relevant to more people in our society, when so many are struggling so much?
A number of innovative organisations are approaching the subject of food poverty to answer this question. Many of these are grass-roots with no more resources behind them other than a passion for change. Many have a branch local to you if you wish to help.
Disco Soup, developed by the Youth Slowfood Network began in Germany, and has reached the United Kingdom after spreading through France. The concept is simple; gather donated food that would otherwise have been discarded, transform said food into a decent meal via volunteers, accompanied by a DJ or other musicians. Between March 2012 (the first Parisian Disco Soup) and October 2012 participants swelled from 100 to 5,000. 4 The food that is prepared is then distributed to homeless people locally. If you’re interested in joining the next UK Disco Soup, keep an eye on the feedbackglobal.org events page.
The video below documents the first event held in Paris:
Save the Date,, described as London’s first ‘Egalitarian Eatery’ is a volunteer run, pay-as-you-feel cafe. The concept is simple; food that would ordinarily be headed for landfill is intercepted, sorted, and transformed into restaurant quality cuisine that is available to customers at whatever price they are able to afford, or think that the meal is worth. The idea has numerous social benefits beyond the avoidance of food waste. The PAYF pricing structure and ideal of serving high-end restaurant quality food enables families and individuals to experience a type of meal and environment they would not necessarily be able to afford. It creates opportunities for education about properly cooked healthy food and how it can be presented well on a budget. It brings different stratas of society into contact with one another,breaking down stereotypes and affording people the chance to discover the truth behind these.
If you would like to try Save-the-Date yourself, it is open from 15.00 to 22.00 Wednesday to Friday each week. Please
check their website, for the most updated information before travelling.
The People’s Kitchen network is a more informal idea of the pay-as-you-feel for a meal. Using waste food, supplemented by donations and produce grown on allotments, People’s Kitchen serves healthy, good-quality food in an informal setting to whoever turns up on the night. Our Derby People’s Kitchen operates on the last Monday of every month. The food is always varied as each month has a different catering team; it is always vegan, being accessible to most people in terms of dietary, cultural and religious requirements.
The Abundance Network brings together groups of people who volunteer to harvest gluts of unwanted fruit in back gardens which are then donated to local schools, homeless shelters and food banks. With over 90% of fruit and 70% of vegetables now imported into the United Kingdom 5, improving the use of our own native stock improves food waste and reduces air-miles, which, together with the community and health benefits of getting outside in the fresh air as a group, can only be positive. There are no age restrictions to participate; however no group currently operates in the Derby/Nottingham area. If you are interested in establishing an Abundance Network Group please find out more information on their website here.
Guerrilla Gardening is a catch-all for a number of different activities for cultivating and beautifying land that the gardener has no legal right to change. Guerrilla gardens are usually established on urban brownfield sites that have been abandoned or neglected, as well as places that are simply lacking in natural beauty. The land (or pothole) is used to raise plants, either food crops, or planting to improve the aesthetic beauty of the location. Some guerrilla gardeners work in relative secrecy, raising their crops at night, whilst for others, the public defiance of gardening illegally is seen as a form of activism in and of itself. Derby’s very own guerrilla gardeners of Normanton Road have an active Facebook page if you would like to find out more about what they do.
The final community movement working to reduce food waste and improve community within the UK is the Urban Orchards Projects.
Since the 1950s up to 60% of our community orchards have been lost through housing development and land re- purposing, and lack of maintenance.6 The Urban Orchard Project is working throughout London and the UK to reverse this trend. Their website offers a wealth of information, including a map of orchards (both new and re-established), information on tree maintenance and recipes for fruit gluts.
What weaves all these different movements into one common thread are their similarities :
- Passionate volunteers giving up their time and energy for the benefit of their community.
- Self organisation around great ideas: these groups are self managed and grow across countries and continents organically.
- Other benefits than just the reduction of food waste, such as reduction in air miles, improvements in community links, chances to learn about fresh air and exercise.
- A positive ethos; everyone is there because they want to be, not because they feel they have to be.
- A sense of fun. These ideas tap into what people enjoy doing. There is no effort involved. People can make a difference and have a great time.
So, the Lunar21 round up of community initiatives against food poverty and waste is concluded. There may be more we have missed. If so please email us, we would love to share your story.
1 & 2: ‘The Guardian, In their own words: the astonishing rise of food banks’ (Accessed on 28/2/2015: http://www.theguardian.com/society/patrick-butler-cuts-blog/2014/dec/08/in-thier-own-words-rise-of-food-banks-devastating-human-impact)
3: ‘Trussell Trust, Foodbank figures top 900,000’ (Accessed on 28/2/2015: http://www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-figures-top-900000)
4. Shareable.net blog: Disco Soup fighting food waste to a disco groove (Accessed on 1/3/2015 http://www.shareable.net/blog/disco-soup-fighting-food-waste-to-a-disco-groove)
5: ‘The Abundance Network (Accessed on 1/3/2015: http://www.abundancenetwork.org.uk/about-us)
6: The Urban Orchard Project (Accessed on 1/3/15: http://www.theurbanorchardproject.org/what-we-do/restoring-orchards)