Globally, agriculture is responsible for 24% - almost a quarter – of Greenhouse Gas emissions, and 60% of global terrestrial biodiversity loss. In the face of the sixth mass extinction in our Earth’s history, and a climate crisis that is more urgent and real than ever before, growing and producing food costs the earth dearly. Yet we waste one third of the food produced to be eaten.
When I heard this fact years ago, along with other statistics about the energy, land and water that is used to grow food that is never eaten, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t being shouted about more. To me, looking at all the often complex and sometimes daunting ways in which we need to be combatting climate change, the idea of just eating the food we are already producing instead of letting it go to landfill, seemed the most obvious first step.
I set up REfUSE with my best friend Mim in 2015 by putting on pop-up restaurant events in local church halls, community centres or cafés. We would collect food in my little car from supermarkets and food retailers that was otherwise going to waste, fill our front room at home, and once a month gather volunteers to cook up a creative and delicious restaurant menu with whatever food we had collected that week. These pop-ups were incredible events where people of every age and background were welcome and included, encouraged to ‘pay as you feel’ for their meals with time, money or skills. Since then, with a crowdfunding campaign, grant funding from lots of places, a huge amount of hard work and thousands of volunteer hours, we have grown into a team of 5 part-time paid staff, about 150 volunteers, a van, huge warehouse, high street community cafe and education project.
Since our launch in 2015 we have saved almost 50 tonnes of food and drink from going to landfill, and made around 20,000 meals.
REfUSE's Grand Opening in April 2018, Durham
We’ve gone from collecting veg every other week from a local supermarket and bread from the baker, to driving round in a van collecting over a tonne of food every week. That’s a lot of food – and the quality, variety and reasons for deeming it “waste” is often overwhelming: tens of turkeys and mountains of mince pies at Christmas; 6,100 chocolate bars given to us a week past their best before but still perfectly fine 2 years later; 2 huge joints of beef worth £60 being thrown away because they were “too big” (I’m not even kidding); 750kg vegan cheese because of a typo in the ordering department; a van full of frozen ready meals because they were rebranding; and 500kg yoghurt because the barcode was printed wrong. And these are just the ‘one-offs’: waste is built in to our food production and consumer systems, and we are seeing just the very tip of the iceberg.
Our vision is to reveal value in things, places and people that others might overlook or see as waste.
To prove the value and quality of food that would otherwise have been wasted, we have even catered for weddings: putting on amazing banquets for 150+ people. Our “Pay As You Feel” café is open 5 days a week, and has grown into a creative, inclusive community hub where people can eat, contribute and feel empowered as part of a bigger movement. We think food is a “social glue”: where people from every background are equal over a shared meal, and we love seeing this happen in the wonderful North East of England.
What can you do about food waste?
1. Support local organisations like ourselves!
Look for something near you like FoodCycle, The Real Junk Food Project, Fareshare, Food Not Bombs, Plan Zheroes, The Felix Project, Gleaning Network. We’re always in need of help and volunteers, and it is a fun, creative way of enjoying food and good company.
2. Don’t be scared of your food.
Date labels are just a number, you have senses – touch, taste and smell. Use your common sense when it comes to what to chuck, and just chop the mouldy bit off if you need to! When it comes to cooking, enjoy being creative – if you don’t have exactly what’s on the recipe, that’s OK, what have you got in the fridge as an alternative – can you use up old bits instead of buying something new?
3. Shop mindfully
Check what you’ve got before going to buy more, avoid impulse buys, don’t buy more than you need just because it’s on offer. Use your freezer well, plan meals, be creative with leftovers. www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/recipes has lots of ideas for you.
4. Join OLIO
An app for you to be able to share your surplus food and stuff with your neighbours.