In an age where up to 40 percent of the food the planet produces never makes it on to a plate, food redistribution charities are playing an increasingly crucial and common-sense role.
The definition of ‘food poverty’ makes for sobering reading. In the UK alone, 8.4 million people, the equivalent of the entire population of London, are struggling to afford to eat. Take this definition to a global level and the figures are truly terrifying. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people, one in nine people on the planet, suffer from chronic undernourishment. Even in the US, one in eight households are classed as ‘food insecure’.
One solution to tackle this has come in the form of food redistribution charities. In many ways, they represent one of the oldest forms of giving, namely in providing food to those who need it most. But in an age where up to 40 percent of the food the planet produces never makes it on to a plate, they also play a crucial role as a serious wake-up call to consumers and producers alike.
For more than 20 years, the UK-wide charity FareShare has been fighting hunger and food waste, redistributing food to frontline charities and community groups that support vulnerable people. Today it provides food for 18.3 million meals a year, supporting more than 200,000 people every week in the process. It works with the food industry to identify quality, in-date food that can be redistributed to 2,500 charities, providing lifelines to vulnerable people.
The EU bureaucratic minefield relating to ‘marketing cosmetic standards’ on vegetables didn’t initially help food redistribution charities. For years, ‘wonky’ or ‘ugly’ veg simply ended up as animal feed or was left to rot, rather than being passed on to those who needed it most. When Jamie Oliver joined fellow celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in taking supermarkets to task, there was a sharp uptick in initiatives. Despite this, there are still vast amounts of food thrown away — or saved from the landfill by those such as FareShare.
Feeding Hong Kong sits side-by-side with FareShare when it comes to a mission of redistribution of food to those who need it most. It will surprise many that despite a reputation as a prosperous city, 18 percent of the population in Hong Kong lives below the poverty line. Around 3,200 tonnes of food are thrown away every single day.
Feeding Hong Kong redistributes food that is still safe to eat but has lost its commercial value for various reasons, including imminent sell-by dates, labelling errors, discontinued brands, damaged packaging and more. It sorts and delivers the food to a network of partner charities. This adds up to more than a million meals distributed annually from 416 tonnes of food, given by 150 donors.
There are, of course, times in the year when food poverty hits home even harder than normal, as executive director Gabrielle Kirstein explains: “This year, our annual ‘Santa Sack’ campaign aims to deliver 2,000 family food parcels and 20 charity hampers for community kitchens. We include staples, plus festive treats. In previous years we have run cooking classes with volunteers to make jams, pickles and more. Due to popular request, we’re also aiming to include a nice tin of biscuits.”
It’s clear that, more than ever, food redistribution serves a critical purpose in correcting the vast imbalance in wealth and resource distribution — not to mention acting as a crucial reminder to us all on minimising waste.