The Food Waste Scandal
Everybody eats - it is the basis to survival.
In the UK alone, more than ⅓ of food produced - around 10m tonnes - is surplus and never gets eaten; just 15% of the food wasted can feed 25m people annually. However, currently 2m people in the UK are malnourished, with 3m others currently at risk of becoming so. Further to this 1 in 6 parents have gone without food themselves so that their children can eat - in the 7th richest country in the world. Food poverty is very much a problem of food distribution, and in the UK’s case, distribution of surplus food can help to tackle this problem.
In addition to this skewed distribution of food is the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Every ton of food that goes to the landfill releases 3.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases, which includes methane, a gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Wasting surplus food is not only wasting resources, it is also actively harming our Earth.
There are currently an increasing number of groups that aim to address the problem of surplus food distribution, such as FoodCycle and the Real Junk Food Project. These organisations combines volunteer power and free space, and has a deep impact in the local communities they are based. However, it does not operate on a model that depends on donations and grants. The social business model is more sustainable on the long run, and helps community groups in need develop soft skills and confidence in an organic way.
Social enterprises such as Rubies in the Rubble and Snact, which use surplus food to make premium products, are able to scale and be sustainable. The premium products are a great way to tackle food waste, and provide opportunities for groups that are in need. However, are there any ways to connect the customers to the community making the products?
Supporting local community groups and creating linkts
This is particularly interesting since community groups around London are constantly facing the fear of having their funding reduced or cut - this is a threat to increasing social and cultural isolation in older population through diminishing social gatherings. Many are eager to have a sustainable form of income through a small social enterprise. Food businesses are usually the top choices, and because many groups feature an older population. Preserves, jams, chutneys, and sauces are great choices because they are products that differ greatly in various cultures, can be made seasonably according to available groceries, less labour intensive to make, and tap into the rick experience and talent of many community groups for the older population.
An important point is to not only just provide a source of income to the local community groups, but to introduce members as important part of the areas they live. This means a regular channel to tell their stories, to understand their cultures, and to provide a space for collaboration with local artists, makers, and members of the community.
Through better connection and interaction with the local community, this will also build confidence in members of the community groups, and enable people to learn about the wealth of diversity and stories of London.
Putting a face to the problem
Who are the people in the supply chain? This is an immense question, from farmers, to wholesale traders, to independent business owners, big coorperations, to consumers, the supply chain is a giant and interlocked web with many stakeholders.
During interviews and research with farmers and wholesale traders, many are willing to contribute surplus food, but the process of donating means extra cost in packaging and delivering. This gap in the supply chain is addressed by few organisations at times (for example, Feedback does marvellous work with different stakeholders like farmers and food organisations, but in irregular terms due to the campaign focused nature), to only selected groups of beneficiaries (for example, only organisations with charity status can benefit from FareShare, which excludes social enterprises and smaller community groups).
If we look to address the problem of the complex network, it might be useful to encourage more local collaboration that grows into a more global movement. It would be essential to showcase these local partnerships by providing a platform to help consumers understand the people working to make food possible, and the effort they are taking to tackle food waste - Even though food waste is a big problem that concerns consumers, people working in the food supply chain are participating in the conversation.
Food waste is a huge problem in our imperfect world, but I believe little perfections can be created.
I’mperfect stops surplus food from going to waste at every level of the food supply chain and breathes new life by empowering comunity groups launch local food social enterprises, through using their talent to make unique and delicious preserves.
Surplus food is collected from wholesale markets and farms, and given to local community groups to be made into a series of beautiful preserves. Preserves that prolong the life of produce.
The range of products are sold in the form of a monthly subscription pickle club, which would surprise the customers with delicious, homemade preserves from local makers and wonky vegetable, and also stories behind the people who are making it. This means that local community groups will open their small social business to local artists and volunteers, who would help them create beautiful packaging, record their stories, and be part of the making progress.
Each preserves would indicate the wholesale vendors and farmers who donated or sold the surplus produce, and they are invited to write a short message about their part in the food system.
The monthly subscription is to try and secure a steady stream of income. The main focus is to create products that are artisanal, seasonal, and unique to each community. The preserves would also be sold to local shops, cafes, and farmers' markets. By establishing links with the local communuties, we wish to be ablr to secure a venue for the community groups to produce and stay in the long run, which would enable unused surplus produce be also sold at a pay-as-you-feel method that benefits the communities.
Community groups would benefit from having a steady stream of profit, which will enable them to be independent from grants and funding, and also learn skills in art and design, build confidence and soft skills through entrepreneurship, and hopefully, establish a strong network to the local community. The profits will be used in vital activities that are essential to the well-being of community groups members.
The goal is to establish a trusted brand that provides high quality products made with surplus, made by community groups around London and UK (and the world!), which incubate local partnerships between volunteers, farmers, wholesalers, community groups, artists and makers, and consumers. An online platform that showcase and celebrate the diversity of different regions, with a tailored approach to the surplus problem in various places.
The model, in its core, empower community groups to be designers, chefs, entrepreneurs, and storytellers.
In the long run, profits will enable us to provide incentives for farmers and traders to provide the surplus and out-grade produce. We will be able to provide surplus food management services to commercial farms and offer payment for the unavoidable surplus that is initially worthless, or even costly, for traders and independent farmers.
What are the benefits?
- Surplus food has a prolonged life and increased nutritional value, and less food waste is produced.
- Farmers and wholesale vendors save money in disposing surplus food.
- Support and grow social businesses, and empower community groups to have a sustainable source of income.
- Support growth of community groups, with growth in confidence, soft skills, and more interaction with local community.
- Partnerships formed between artists, community groups, local stores, and others.
- Community groups, wholesale vendors, and farmers given a channel to tell their stories.
- Celebration of diversity and culture in the most delicious ways possible.
- A model that is able to scale, and establish a strong network for communities around the world.
- Change the perception of food waste to assets.
Is there a market?
Subscription boxes model saw rapid growth in the past few years, and is successful at attracting repeat purchses - this would be particularly interesting to this model, since we are trying to create continous support for local communities. (source)
For the past year, I have been visiting wholesale markets in early morning consistently to establish good relationships with the vendors and to understand their needs and the best solutions to tackle waste. I also work in the food innovation and food waste reduction sector, so I am comfortable dealing with surplus, and eager to see a viable solution. Working with community groups in London, I have helped many establish a working social business to sustain their activities, and see talent and passion in many small community groups that just need a chance.