There is so much waste, especially food waste, that goes to landfill. In fact, 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted by the food industry every year in the UK. On top of this, farmers are using chemicals which affect our health to produce large quantities of food, many wrapped in plastic. This plastic causes problems for our environment, the ocean, marine life and wildlife. Through micro-plastics entering our food chain via the fish that we eat, it also causes untold health implications for humans. The food system is broken.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that “in the UK we waste seven million tonnes of food every (2019) – five million of which is perfectly edible. This is not only costing huge amounts of money but is a big contributing factor to climate change. Food waste causes eight per cent of greenhouse gases worldwide.”
In the age of superstores and internet shopping, one might argue that we have too much availability and choice. Many supermarkets sell thousands of branded products and use sophisticated marketing techniques to sell them to us. It is easy to see how many are inclined to buy more than they really need and end up wasting food when things go out of date before they have had a chance to eat them.
On the other hand, new figures have revealed a 23 per cent rise in the amount of three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis across Birmingham in 2019. That’s 41,436 packs of supplies given out to Brummies between April 2018 to March 2019, an increase on 33,445 the previous year. Poverty is not always a word that those in power like to use, however for millions it is a reality. How, as a society, can we waste so much food when so many are struggling to feed themselves?
There are a number of innovative community organisations working hard to try and address this problem. Balsall Heath farm in Birmingham, with its “pay as you feel” project at the farm, not only uses the food that would have otherwise been thrown away, but supports the community by delivering cooking classes, by giving people the opportunity to up-skill through volunteering, and by providing a space for local people to meet and have a chat. The internet has its positives, giving access to food blogs and videos of celebrity cooking tutorials, but give me a chance any day to smell and cook in the real world, good, healthy, nutritious food. On top of all this, the project is being supported by people who care about their community and the environment.
When it comes to the environmental impacts of our food system, another problem is the amount of fresh food that is flown in from other countries. Horticulture in the UK has not been given the attention that it deserves. Only 153,000 hectares of the UK’s total agricultural land (17.6 million hectares) is devoted to growing fruits and vegetables. The country’s self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetable production is in long-term decline with only 56% of vegetables and a mere 16% of fruits grown in the UK.
In the current Coronavirus crisis, many people are finding it difficult to find certain foods in the supermarket or online. This may encourage more people to try growing their own fruit and vegetables or to try ordering from local independent farms and shops. These are two great ways of reducing the carbon footprint of our diet, as are buying organic and seasonal as much as possible.
Another great local group in Birmingham that supports local people is Lets Grow Together, bringing enjoyable, educational growing projects to local schools and giving young people an opportunity to learn important skills that can benefit them throughout their life.
The answer is always to invest in our health and future. Having a secure, sustainable and affordable food system is one way to do this and can only be a good thing.
By Toqueer Ahmed Quyyam, Outreach Campaigner with Birmingham Friends of the Earth
References and useful websites