Monday, 21 November 2011

No such thing as a free lunch?

Volunteers in the Feeding 5k kitchen working hard to feed the hungry lunchtime masses

Or so they say. Who are 'they' anyway? Because they are wrong.

Friday saw queues that stretched around Trafalgar Square as many hurried to be one of the lucky 5,000 to be fed with surplus food that would have otherwise been thrown away. The sun shone as speakers instilled the captive audience with the virtues of creating less food waste. I stood in raptures as we were told stories of sorry cauliflowers that grew ‘too big’ for the supermarkets standards (!) and delicious but ‘misshapen’ fruit and vegetables that are turned away by the Big Four.

Beautiful curly carrots!

Producers and chefs alike had turned out to meet and share with their knowledge with the public and it was great to see the number of people that had been drawn to the event. I got my (geeky) thrills by spotting Valentine Warner casually mingling with the crowds before his turn on stage to cook in front of the masses.

We arrived early, just before midday, as we were keen to taste what discarded dishes the huge industrial kitchens had put together. I was slightly staggered by the queue – there must have been about two hundred hungry folks ready and waiting – but this moved extremely quickly when food starting being served. There were plenty of friendly volunteers around to direct us to our free portion of vegan veggie curry and rice, which was flavourful but not at all spicy so it seemed to please everyone from us young professionals in office wear to the under-fives in buggies.

Grabbie, grabbie. Visitors go mad for discarded produce.

Once we’d filled our faces, we explored a little more of what the event had to offer. There was an air of premature January-sale-hysteria as volunteers from the wonderful Fareshare and local school children handed out bags of fruit and vegetables, which would have otherwise gone to waste. Although the odd slightly squishy grape was obviously sub-par (though still perfectly edible), the vast majority was virtually perfect. Between us, my group were given half a dozen bananas, a large bunch of grapes, a teensy pumpkin and four or five pears which were all delicious and apparently unblemished. We also saw curly carrots and small pineapples in the arms of fellow revellers. This prompted a lot of healthy debate about the peculiar standards the supermarkets have developed in response to our demands. Why on earth are the supermarkets throwing perfectly good food like this away?

A mere hour inspired a lot of conversations among my peers, which has got to be a good thing. The most common comment that I overheard was the realisation that we’re so lucky to have food at all and disbelief that, while some are starving, we are turning edible food away because it doesn’t conform to our aesthetic expectations. And all of this is before the food even hits our shelves! We throw away about 4.4 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten. If we stop this blatant waste of resources, our family finances will see the benefits as well as the environment that we live in.

If you’re looking for more information on how to reduce your food wastage, have a look on Love Food Hate Waste. If you’d like to help the amazing efforts of Fareshare in redistributing unwanted food to some of the most needy in our nation, have a look at their website. To find out more about the fantastic Feeding 5k day, have a peek at this year's event website.

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