The Aberystwyth charity changing the way we see food...and the inequality it highlights

Guest Article from Gethin Jones, 2018

How many times have you looked at the ‘best before’ date on a piece of food, and concluded that (despite it looking all right) it was probably best to chuck it away, just in case? Well, you aren’t alone, one third of the food produced in the world is wasted each year. Wales alone threw away 350,000 tons of household food waste in 2015, much of which is still perfectly edible. 

Food wastage happens all along the food chain, from farmers to your fridge at home. Supermarkets and food stores around the country throw away food once it has passed its ‘freshest’ because who is really going to fork out their money for food not at its best

Once food has passed its prime, this surplus food that failed to sell at reduced prices, goes straight in the bin. Although in some parts of Wales, your food waste helps create renewable energy, much of it still ends up in landfills.

It seems quite nonsensical that instead of making use of this food, we often prefer to just bury it in the ground, doesn’t it? Surely perfectly edible, nutritious food should be put to better use. With food banks on the rise in Wales, ensuring we don’t throw away good food is essential. Plus, food waste produces a lot of methane while it rots, a gas 23 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.

This is where charities like Aber Food Surplus in Aberystwyth are helping to curb this trend. Through negotiations with local shops, they are helping to reduce the amount of edible food going to landfills, and turning it into delicious meals for the local community on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis. Meaning that whether you’re a tourist interested in trying out the pop-up meal venues around the town, or you’re struggling for food one week, the volunteer chefs can cook you up something tasty every Thursday at their community café. They aim is to make “environmentally conscious meals” available to those who want to eat more environmentally friendly, but cannot afford it.

Heather McClure, one of the co-founders of Aber Food Surplus, was busy on her collection rounds to pick up surplus food when I spoke to her. She said that they collect one ton of edible food from food stores in Aberystwyth every month and then redistribute most of it to various other community groups in the area, and organisations that provide services like sheltered accommodation, refugee support, or community meals; such as Aberaid, Salvation Army and Care Society. 

However, she stressed that their organisation is not a solution to the problem of people not being able to afford to eat, and that their food supply is “too unreliable for our the most vulnerable in society to rely on”.  Although she said it would be nice to be able to address the poverty problem and that they do as much as they can, their cause is about “bringing people together through positive and proactive environmentalism, not tackling inequality”. She said that the problem of people not being able to afford food is a much larger societal issue and that the “emergency relief” that their organisation is able to provide cannot be seen as an adequate solution. Placing the burden of reducing poverty on charity organisations simply “relieves the need for the government to take action to tackle the problem”. 

The amount of people who became reliant on the service Heather and her colleagues provided was indicative of a wider problem, one that surplus food from shops cannot solve. In Wales, almost a quarter of the population live in poverty, the highest rate of any country in the UK and a statistic set to rise by 2022. This means that by 2022, 39% of children in Wales will be growing up in families struggling to put food on the table each week. 

With spiralling living costs and stagnant wages across the UK, we can all do our bit to help reduce food waste. Not only for our pockets, but for the planet too.

Aber Food Surplus
A day in the life of Aber Food Surplus

We have two premises that are run by Aber Food Surplus. We have our food headquarters (The Redistribution Hub), and our thinking headquarters (The Office). 

The redistribution hub is opened up twice a day for food to either be logged and stored (PM), or sorted and delivered (AM). 

We arrive in the morning at the food headquarters to open up the premises and meet volunteers, we all sign in and check the premises is clean and safe, and that the food is looking in fine condition. We check out the food deliveries board: this shows us where food has been delivered this week. Then we check the food deliveries rota: this shows us where food should have been delivered this week. These two boards are usually quite similar, however they can differ because some days there is a lot more surplus than others, and there are some days where different organisations require or do not require food surplus. We then decide what deliveries need doing that day, and think about the need of those organisations. 

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Some organisations receive food deliveries for different uses, for example: to cook meals that bring the community together; to provide for sheltered accommodation clients; or to operate in a food bank style. So we have to sort the deliveries according to what we think the organisations can use. We then load up a volunteers car, and set off on the rounds. 

It can be heavy work moving all that food. 

In the evenings there is more heavy work to be done. Different volunteers come in around 7:30pm to start the collections from supermarkets. Most evenings there are 4 collections; Morrisons, Tesco Superstore, M&S, and Lidl. (Tesco Express is in the mornings, and Bookers and Nisa (CKs) are more ad-hoc). We recieve a text message authorisation from the supermarkets and reply YES, we show the store staff the text message and our Aber Food Surplus identity, and they let us accept the food. We then load up the car and take the food back to the premises. Before sorting and storing the food on either shelving units or in our fridges and freezers, we weigh all the food. This allows us to know how much food we are saving from going to waste, and becoming an environmental problem. 

Currently we collect 250kgs of food waste from supermarkets every week. This equates to 1 tonne of food waste every month. 

At the office, the project coordinators have recently received funding to expand on the work of Aber Food Surplus. There are 3 project coordinators: Chris Byrne, Chris Woodfeild, and Heather McClure. They will then spend the day working on different aspects of the project. This can involve planning and delivering school workshops; running pop up stalls at events with information on the impact of food waste and how we can prevent it; or by encouraging young people or children to try the smoothie bike to make smoothies with surplus fruit. The project coordinators might be organising events and kitchen space, recruiting volunteers, and supporting them to cook up 3 course dinners to be served to the community on a 'Pay As You Feel' basis. The project coordinators are particularly keen in taking a holistic approach to their work with food waste, and believe that we should be focussing on the whole food system to reduce its environmental impact. Therefore, they spend time planning community consultations, where we can gather ideas about the type of food future we would like to see in Aberystwyth, and how we can plan for a resilient food system.

Furthermore, there are planning ways to expand on the work they already do by involving more businesses, and supporting businesses to work towards making Aberystwyth the first 'Zero Food Waste Town'.  Recently, the team have been working on other solutions to reduce food waste in Aberystwyth, for example: promoting apps like 'Olio' and '2 Good 2 Go'; connecting with social and environmentally friendly animal businesses to figure out how we can provide animal feed; looking for people who might be interested in a 'foster a composter' project; and for volunteers to help with the idea of a 'Community Fridge'. They have already started working with some volunteers to start to build on the idea of a 'Community Fridge', but are still looking for lots more community support and volunteers. Check out how the community fridge could work here. We would be keen to have more people involved in the project, and hear your ideas on where it should go. 

Please get in touch if you would like to be involved in any aspect of the project, you can do this by email, or through our 'Get involved' page on our website.

www.aberfoodsurplus.co.uk

aberfoodsurplus@outlook.com

 Photo Credit: No Church in the Wild, Aberystwyth

Photo Credit: No Church in the Wild, Aberystwyth

Aber Food Surplus