Have you ever thought about what happens to food that’s still on the shelves of your local supermarket when it reaches its “display until” date? Much of it is still perfectly edible, but as it can no longer be sold it instead often ends up just going in a shop’s general rubbish. Wasted food – not nice, but sadly a fact of life in many shops. There are an estimated 400,000 tonnes of surplus food that can reclaimed each year from food retailers here in the UK, but all this food can be turned into healthy and nutritious meals.
Food poverty is another huge problem facing us here in the UK with an estimated 4 million people affected. The current economic situation and rising unemployment is also impacting on this and it is thought that it costs the NHS £13billion a year to deal with malnutrition.
When you look at the above facts it seems staggering to me that both these things are happening here in the UK. A 1st world country, yet food is going to waste at the same time as food poverty and malnutrition. A crazy, crazy situation, but one that FoodCycle is committed to change.
FoodCycle’s mission is quite simple:
“We empower local communities to set up groups of volunteers to collect surplus produce locally and prepare nutritious meals in unused professional kitchen spaces. These delicious meals are then served to those in need in the community.”
When you see it written down like that it seems simple, yet it’s still not easy without the core of volunteers that FoodCycle are also empowering.
Increased unemployment here in the UK means that there are people out of work, especially young people, who often have no opportunity to learn new skills that would help them get into employment. It’s all too easy for people in this situation to feel alienated from the community around them and that’s how local communities become fractured and break down. What FoodCycle do is to support volunteers and provide them with the skills and tools they need to help within their communities and to serve nutritious meals to those most in need.
Since they were established in 2008 FoodCycle have set up 14 Hubs and two Community Cafes in the UK. At each of the Hubs FoodCycle has helped local volunteers to find local sources of surplus food and free kitchen spaces in which to prepare and cook meals. They also help to build a group of volunteers and work with the community to find the people to serve these meals too – refugees, homeless people, low income families and the elderly for example. Ongoing support is also then provided to help with practical things like cooking skills, insurance, food safety training and ensuring that the Hub has the support and volunteer engagement that it needs to continue.
The Community Cafes are slightly different in that they sell nutritious and affordable food to the local communities where they are based. After our recent Living Streets Great British Walking Challenge walk, Little Miss C and I were fortunate enough to visit the Pie in the Sky FoodCycle Community Cafe in Bromley-by-Bow in East London. Based at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre this cafe really couldn’t be any closer to the heart of the local community.
The centre caters for all community needs including helping residents with health issues, learning new skills, finding employment and providing the tools to help them to create an enterprising community. As we sat there eating a delicious lunch (a yummy vegetarian lasagne in case you’re wondering!) we could see a huge range of local people coming in and using both the centre and the cafe; older ladies out for an afternoon cup of tea, a group of people with learning difficulties having lunch before a craft class in a neighbouring room, a local mum passing through on her way to a medical appointment with her small children. This is exactly the kind of place that communities should be centred around – somewhere welcoming and with all the tools and support to help local people to build a community that they can be proud of.
FoodCycle’s role at the centre of places like this is so important, yet many people I’ve spoken to over the last week don’t seem to be aware of them yet. I’m hoping that this post will hope to change that. There are several different ways to keep up with what they are doing:
If you want to find out more about FoodCycle and their work, are interested in volunteering or want to donate to FoodCycle then please just take a look at their website.
Disclaimer: I have received no payment for this blog post, but as part of the Great British Walking Challenge that LMC and I undertook we were bought lunch in the FoodCycle Pie in the Sky Community Cafe.