UK hunger rates surpass all of Europe as food wastage adds to the problem

An estimated 2.2 million people are said to be living in severe food insecurity in the UK as per Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) latest report, making it the highest ever reported number within Europe.

Food insecurity translates to the lack of access to food caused by restrictions such as limited or no access to money and/or other resources. Food insecurity is also measured by intensity. The scale of intensity is as follows:

Created by: Surbhi Lal
Scale of food insecurity

Considering, a major portion of the UK population falls under the severe food insecurity group, many governmental bodies have been working together to sort this issue. However, it is important to understand that while there are various causes for this problem, one of the major ones is food wastage in the country.

The wastage problem:

A large portion of this wastage has been found to come from London alone as reports from City Harvest found out that an estimated number of 13 million meals was being thrown away within the city by restaurants, supermarkets and food outlets combined. The report also states that 9 million meals would be required to eliminate the problem in London alone. Krina Shah, 23, is a part time worker at a food stall at the SSE Arena in Wembley. She said: “Although, fast food orders like burgers, fries and hot dogs need to be prepared according to the customer’s orders, most of the time they are cooked in advance for convenience to avoid customers from queuing. They cook more than what is required which results into a lot of wastage.” She explained that during events, workers are briefed to pre-cook some food leading to maximum wastage. She added: “The good surplus food can be distributed to the people who need it or donated to food banks instead of throwing it away.” The UK is a member of  the UN Sustainable Development Goals agreement which was created in 2015 to eliminate hunger and provide nutritious food globally. However, in the light of current affairs, MP’s have claimed that the government is not fulfilling its promises with regards to any of those commitments. CIty Harvest’s report also revealed that more women are likely to be affected by men by severe food insecurity as nearly half of young mothers between the ages of 16 to 24 regularly miss meals in order to take care of their children.

That said, foundations across the country are now working towards closing the gap between surplus food and hungry stomachs. One such example is The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP) – a charity based in the UK that continually works for saving food from getting wasted and converts the surplus for the ones who need it the most for little to no cost. Adam Smith, CEO of TRJFP said; “We waste so much of it in this country that we could feed everybody with just the waste alone.”

Strategies for a better future:

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in the UK created the Courtauld Commitment’s successor, Courtauld 2025, for resolving issues related to food and drink wastage and in turn help the environment and the population of UK. The Courtauld 2025 brings together food retailers (such as grocery stores), manufacturers, suppliers, local authorities and members of the hospitality, food service and agricultural industries to meet its goals for 2025. For each sector within the agreement, WRAP has provided targeting, measuring and executional tools as an incentive for members to stay active in the process and bring in more participants to become part of the initiative.

The ultimate goal of the Courtauld 2025 however, is to cut down per person food wastage by 20 percent within the UK. This would roughly translate to 1.5 million tonnes of food being saved from going to waste. One of the biggest executional strategies of WRAP to achieve its goals by 2025 is redistribution of food to the needy. The campaign ‘Your Business Is Food, Don’t Throw It Away’ was created to help businesses make sense of all the surplus food that goes to the trash cans. It is important to note that nearly 70 percent of the hospitality sector food waste is edible and can be redistributed to people in need.2

Yet, some members of the industry still lack knowledge when it comes to making decisions related to excessive leftovers. This is where the ‘Your Business Is Food, Don’t Throw It Away’ campaign comes in handy as it provides a starter’s guide, answers to FAQs, calculating tools and more to help big business save money and food while contributing to the solution of hunger rates in the country. The economics of food wastage attracts business owners and nudges them to behave more sustainably in terms of production and selling of food and drinks.

A very important body working behind this issue for a while is the UK-based The Trussell Trust which connects with food banks across the country and helps provide food to people who need it in difficult times such as poverty or crisis. Some of their campaigns can be supported on the internet. The following is an example of a currently active one:

Another factor that adds to the problem are the constant Brexit discussions as they cause a rise in issues like high levels of poverty causing food insecurity in many areas as the public becomes less capable of buying food products sold at rising prices. Numerous efforts by foundations like Trussell Trust who distributed more than a staggering 1.3 million food parcels in 2018 become less significant due to political and economic problems too. However, the government must take intense and rapid action against these problems before they become too massive to combat. 

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