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Aber Food Surplus encourages sustainability

Surplus food: Served to event attendees (Pic. Christopher Byrne)
Surplus food: Served to event attendees (Pic. Christopher Byrne)

THERE are many of us that hate to see food go to waste, especially perfectly edible and decent food that no one wants sitting in the bin. Thankfully though, Aberystwyth has the hope of continuously being on the food sustainability rise, courtesy of local organisation ‘Aber Food Surplus’.

In order to highlight ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ week, where a series of events have been held, Thursday, October 27 saw Aber Food Surplus, Aberystwyth Sustainability Society and Aberystwyth University Residence Life Team join together to host an educational event at Aberystwyth University.

Prior to the screening of ‘Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story’, those who attended the event (students and staff at the university and local community members) were able to feast on a variety of perfectly fine food that would otherwise have gone to waste.

Aber Surplus was able to rescue unwanted food due to kind donations from Greggs, Aberystwyth University and Morrisons, to name a few.

It was wonderful to see the people who attended enjoying delicious soup, pasties, salads and chocolate biscuits while socialising with each other. This event was a very generous idea symbolising the very purpose of food sustainability and a chance to appreciate the food even more.

Everyone then made their way into the lecture room of the Llandinam building to await the film screening.

Chris Woodfield introduced the event by thanking everyone for attending and stated that food should be given to mouths, not bins, while explaining a bit about what the evening would entail.

Quite fittingly, the screening of ‘Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story’ was good to go as the lights dimmed for an education hour ahead.

Produced by Jenny Rustemayer and directed by Grant Baldwin, the ground-breaking documentary is a very beneficial watch for those who are interested in food sustainability.

The documentary follows a couple in America who challenge themselves to live for six months from food waste, in addition to exploring what really happens in our food system.

To fully understand the process, the documentary is split into four categories – Mindset, Consequence, Recovery and Change. The film aims to get us thinking as to how much food is wasted and from that, how much of the wasted food is still good to eat.

We learn from the documentary that, at the time of being filmed in 2014, 40% of grown food is not eaten and a third of food is not consumed globally. From this, we are able to slowly get a better insight into the effects of food waste.

On the subject of perfection, universally we all at some point or another look for food in a shop or supermarket that has no markings on it, for example. But when we step back, we realise that just because there are markings on food, does not mean it is fit for the bin – but unfortunately, the mind of retailers think differently.

To the retailers, things must look perfect and edible to the consumer, and if there is a marking/bruise on food, then it is ‘not good to eat’.

Another point that the documentary makes is the link between littering and wasting.

Society today associates littering to be a ‘sin’ or an unforgiving act that have people up in arms. Unfortunately, food waste is not treated as the same and instead, it is treated as ‘fine’ and ‘normal’. In fact, because it is so natural, it does not enter people’s minds until it is pointed out to us.

Watching the couple drive around locating bins in places like at the back of restaurants truly strikes a chord. They express the concerns they had before they started the challenge and how they thought hunting for food would be a problem but as the documentary progressed, they admitted that they find it to be easier than expected. From this, we can gather that not only is food waste considered normal behaviour in our society today, but that it continuous to carry on behind the scenes.

To illustrate the consequences of food waste, the documentary reiterates to us that despite using a lot of land to produce a lot of food, we quickly end up producing food that no one eats. As it stands in 2016, nearly 30% of the world’s agricultural land is used to grow food that is wasted. The question is, will we learn from what we do and if so, when will that be?

To get to that point, recovery is in order. To regain something that has been lost, we must learn from the estimated 60% of people who throw their food out prematurely and start to make changes in our lifestyles and our ways of thinking.

To conclude the film, the couple confide in the viewers about what they have learned from the experience and the money they saved as a result of the challenge.

Jenny, President of the Aberystwyth University Sustainability Society, addressed the lecture room to explain about the moment her perspective on food changed.

Describing her time volunteering in a Kenyan Children’s home, Jenny explained about the occasion where she found a photo of an extravagant milkshake on her Facebook newsfeed and a young child refused to believe that one person is able to consume that much.

Listening to Jenny speak about her experience clearly strikes a chord and will give you a different spin on how we all look at food sustainability. This then was followed by a Q&A session about the work that Aber Food Surplus provide in Aberystwyth and was an excellent chance for those who attended to find out how they can get involved.

The Herald spoke to Christopher Woodfield, Heather McClure and Christopher Byrne of Aber Food Surplus after the event to find out a little bit more about them: “Aber Food Surplus is made up of Chris Woodfield, Heather McClure and Chris Byrne, who met in September 2015 to form the university’s first Sustainability Society.

“The team are passionate about food waste and food security, with Chris Woodfield studying an MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Heather recently completed a MA in Regional and Environmental Policy and Chris Byrne is currently studying a PhD in Food Security.”

They went on to say: “All of the team are inspired to make a positive difference in their local community here in Aberystwyth, from learning and studying about the environmental consequences of food waste contributing to climate change and also the social implications of wasting food and food poverty.”

The trio went on to tell about Aber Food Surplus and how it all began: “Aber Food Surplus is currently in the process of setting itself up as a charity-based not-for-profit social enterprise after having recently completed the Amplify Cymru social enterprise training package delivered by the Young Foundation.

“The project aims to redistribute edible fit-for-consumption food that is no longer wanted by supermarkets or retailers, ensuring this food is fed to people.

“Aber Food Surplus hopes to develop a community hub where the food can be redistributed to specific charities and community groups with the long-term aim to establish a community surplus cafe which gives this ‘waste’ or ‘surplus’ food to the community through the ‘Pay As You Feel’ model.”

In addition, they told us: “This Pay As You Feel concept has already proven successful across the UK, with two similar projects in North and South Wales. The team are inspired and enthusiastic to tackle the issue of food waste using this approach to bring the community together and hope the hub or cafe can act as a place of social cohesion and connection with local people using the space for events and activities.

Furthermore, they would like to raise awareness of how much food is being wasted and allow people to value and understand the importance of food.

About the food they provided for those who attended, they explained: “The waste or surplus food used for the event was redistributed from retailers across Aberystwyth, most notably Morrisons, who Aber Food Surplus has been working with since the beginning of year.

“The whole event was organised by volunteers, including volunteer chefs who cooked the food.”

When we asked all three about how they would encourage people to get involved with Aber Food Surplus, they explained: “The project has been facilitating the redistribution of food from Morrisons to the Salvation Army and the Wallich in Aberystwyth since the beginning of year; however, now is looking to expand and engage with other retailers and projects across the town.

“The team have no financial backing and are looking for grants and financial support with the hope of finding a premises in the centre of town to establish the redistribution network of food to the community and people who need it.

“Food waste is a universal issue and everyone can play their part in reducing wastage, whether this is via cooking more sensibly, using your green food waste bin, or challenging retailers, restaurants and cafes about what they do with their surplus or waste food.”

They all went on to say: “Food waste is often a taboo subject and, unfortunately, it appears socially acceptable to waste food. However, estimates range from as much as one third to 50% of all food produced is wasted globally, and in the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimate 15 million tonnes of food are wasted annually.

“Aber Food Surplus aim to make positive social and environmental change here in Aberystwyth by tackling this food wastage in a creative, engaging and community-led way.”

Finally, they added: “For those who are interested in getting involved, finding out more, volunteering or supporting the project, contact aberfoodsurplus@outlook.com or the Facebook page ‘Aber Food Surplus’.”

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Dayne Stone

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