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