The tragedy of food waste

10433265_10152472087051257_9114670192187825949_nHave you ever walked through your local supermarket and thought, “Gosh, look at this plentiful place full of produce!”? Have you ever realised that your local plentiful supermarket is only one such place, in one neighbourhood of one city in one country? In other words, there are millions of supermarkets on the planet brimming with animal products, by-products and cultivated produce…have you ever noticed how supermarkets are empty of food at closing time? No, me neither. And that’s because supermarkets don’t sell all their food at the end of each day and, due to domestic laws, produce which is perfectly edible but exceeds arbitrary sell-by dates will be thrown away.

According to a Guardian article from July 9, the EU wastes approximately 89 million tonnes (that’s 89,000,000,000 kilograms or almost 200,000,000,000 pounds) a year.

Those are staggering numbers, especially given the amount of people that cannot afford fresh food. Most of us take our access to fresh food for granted. An extremely fascinating study by UK-based think thank Overseas Development Institute sheds light on a case of negative feedback: “foods that become cheaper [processed foods] compared to others are likely to be consumed more” and in turn, this drives the prices of certain fresh foods (source).

Over the years, the EU has imposed strict guidelines for what fresh produce needs to look like. In order to make sure all farmers and producers sell similar produce and compete on a level playing field, there are certain standards of colour, weight and shape that fruits and vegetables need to maintain. Aesthetic features, in most cases, are not reflective of quality or nutritional value (unless something is visibly expired), meaning that tonnes of fruits and vegetables that do not meet the criteria can’t be sold.

Thankfully, these rules have been relaxed and only 10 fruits and vegetables are bound by such guidelines, which is that is a step forward.

Food is not only going to waste at the production level, but also at the retailer level. Supermarkets can and should be doing more to make sure food they no longer wish to sell is somehow passed on.

France at the forefront

Although the EU has recently adopted a resolution asking the European Commission to “encourage the creation of agreements” between supermarkets and food charities, this feels like a mere suggestion, not a requirement.
France, on the other hand, seems to be understanding the problem of food waste with a bit more gusto than its neighbours. Large food retailers can receive a fine of up to €75,000 (just over £50,000) for throwing away edible food.

Some supermarkets chains have shown to be very progressive in this matter. French giant Carrefour carries out an extensive programme of food donation and distribution, which, in 2013, was equivalent to 77 million meals. They have also donated over €630,000 (about £445,000) to food banks in four countries.

Not so easy

Unfortunately, the redistribution of food is not always a simple task. There are logistical issues – such as transport or finding recipients who have the facilities to store donated food – which are a hindrance to more action being taken by the supermarkets. More importantly, it’s cheaper for supermarkets to dispose of food than redistribute it.
Despite some difficulties, it can be done, as Carrefour has demonstrated. There are other ways to incentivise distribution: some European countries are helping the problem by offering tax rebates or even refunds to businesses that donate food.

Last but not least

Supermarkets here are, slowly, starting to take the problem seriously. ASDA has pledged £200,000 to pay for the transportation of edible food to FareShare, a charity that seeks to distribute food and works with many charities – but considering ASDA’s 2014 profits were over £700m, we think they could pledge more. There exist other initiatives, such as FoodCycle, a ‘social supermarket’ which aims to open hubs around the UK. They get their surplus from the leading supermarkets and sell it at around a third of the price.

But people do not think this is enough, as recent petitions (1, 2, and 3) have shown. Although the large supermarket chains (Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s Asda and the British Retail Consortium) have made the decision to tackle the issue of food waste in the UK, it does not yet feel that there are concrete strategies in place to reduce the amount of food they get rid of.

Still, the issue is being discussed and will hopefully become one of those things in years to come when we look back with embarrassment that we ever threw away any food at all. But it’s not the future yet, so we need to carry on pushing the supermarket chains for change and we also need to make every effort ourselves, as individuals, to waste as little food as possible.

And the photo?
I took that about a year ago at the Mark & Spencer’s by Cannon Street station in London. I could see staff putting ready meals, sushi and other comestible stuff in clear bin bags. I was a bit shocked and I hoped they were perhaps donating them. I asked a staff member what they were going to do with the food in the bags, “They’re going in the bin.”

Buy Locally?

Now it’s all well and good singing the praises of buying local produce, and supporting local farms – but how feasible is this? You may have seen in our previous post where we interviewed a local pub manager, that sometimes buying local produce just isn’t practical or cost-effective. But what about individuals? Is the picture any different?

We we asked you guys to find out! We asked you about your food purchasing habits, and the results have been interesting… Let’s take a look!

Groceries

We started with the basics – groceries. Where do you get yours? Of our 62 respondents from the community, a massive 92% said they bought theirs from a supermarket. Arguably, this is no surprise. Supermarkets have become massive in the past few decades, and much to the detriment of small businesses. But it’s nice to see at least 5 of you still supporting local business.

Meat

Now meat is a different picture. While we may have opted for convenience when it comes to buying groceries, we still – fortunately – very much have a butcher’s culture in the UK. This is supported by our survey results. Despite an overwhelming majority still going to supermarkets to buy their meat, eight of our respondents are prepared to seek out quality over price buy purchasing from their local butcher’s.

Why?

But why are people leaving behind local business in favour of the quick-fix supermarkets? Convenience. That was the option that came out on top when we asked why. It would seem that “convenience stores” (as they’re called Stateside) are really living up to their name – 80% of people chose that as the reason they shopped there. Cost was also a big one for most people – and the simple truth is, supermarkets are a lot cheaper! And finally, Quality – a sad truth is that a lot of people seem to believe that supermarkets can be better trusted than independents. They see the clean packaging and good branding as an indicator of quality.

We asked you guys what might induce you to buy more locally – here are some of the responses:

  • “[If] it matches the cost of the supermarkets there or there about. I buy fruit and veg from local market stalls but the produce isn’t local but it’s cheap. Budget is my main constraint.”
  • “More availability. Where I live, I have 3 supermarkets within a mile. Don’t even know if there is a market, butchers or grocers in town.”
  • “Better Quality and Price”
  • “Cheaper Produce”
  • “Better advertisement showing locally produce products and where they are available.”
  • “All the butchers round me are halal and I don’t like halal slaughter”
  • I try, but in London it just isn’t convenient, affordable or easily accessible”
  • “Nuffink”

Organic Food on the Rise in the UK?

THIS VIDEO has gone viral on social media over the last several weeks.  It is a 90 second video that takes a look into what ‘going organic’ actually DOES for our bodies.

The film was based on a study by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute IVL- you can read more about it here:  https://www.coop.se/organiceffect

This prompted us to look into how the UK is doing with their organic table fare.

GOOD NEWS.

THE TREND appears to be up for sales in the organic food sector.  According to the Soil Association, the public spent £1.4m more per week on organic food in 2014 and overall sales were up by 4%. This is great news and gets even more interesting when you compare it to the fact that there was an overall drop of 1.9% in food sales in 2014. So, organic is up even when food sales are down? Hmm..

Courtesy Wikiwand

Ok- so maybe we were spending more on eating out which makes it a bit harder to know the true picture of our organic eating habits, but this still seems a victory for organic vs pesticide pumped food.  Maybe the importance of avoiding these pesticides and chemicals from our bodies is finally catching on.

BUT…there is still a ways to go towards a true upward trend in terms of going locally organic.  We decided to dig a bit deeper on how the UK organic farms and producer side of the story is doing.

NOT so good news. 

The latest UK Government figures (2013 report) show the opposite when it comes to Organic Farms in the United Kingdom. Organic farm land – including those converting to organic- is on the decline.  Together the number of organic farms is decreasing by over 28%.  And as for organic producers and processors- that number fell for the 5th year in a row.  (- 6.4%)

BETTER NEWS for urban dwellers.. 

But, for our Urban Farm London readers and fellow urbanites- we’ve got the best news to report! Though we’re not sure what the 2014 government data is just yet- 2013 showed that the urban organic numbers are actually increasing.

The South East- including London– is the ONLY PART OF THE UK that saw a rise in organic producers and processors at 0.7%. This may not be significant climb- but the stats are going up and not down. We’ll count that as a small and important victory for our organic health.  Let’s just hope these numbers keep going in the right direction.

The UK Government report for 2014 is set to be published next month. Be on the lookout as we’ll be watching and writing about it on our blog here.  Let’s hope the stats show more upswings but for now-  we applaud the growing number of urban dwellers helping lead the UK towards healthier tables!

Grow, buy and eat… MORE organic.  

Our guest post from Nigel Akehurst!

Five London based Urban Farming Stories you should know about.. 

Every week there seems to be a new urban farming project springing up. Which is great news for the growing number of locavores – people who want to source (and sometimes grow their own) organically grown local food.  It’s an exciting trend that is only going to get bigger as more people begin to think about their health and the importance of eating good quality food. Until I started Indie Farmer in 2013 I had no idea the number of urban farming projects there were in London but I’ve since been fortunate enough to visit quite a few of them and have picked out a few of my favorites below.

Image Courtesy from Indiefarmer.
Image Courtesy of the Indie Farmer.

Hot off the press – our latest urban farming story about Fortnum & Mason Roof Garden, was submitted by Aiste Saulyte a photographer and urban farmer based in London. She helped Matt Franks the founder of Connected Roots construct the roof top garden at Fortnum & Mason, whilst also photographing the build and interviewing him about the project.

Image Courtesy from Indie Farmer.
Image Courtesy of the Indie Farmer.

My second favourite urban farm in London is Connected Roots – Google Allotments. Back in x Matt invited me along to the Google Allotments in Tottenham Court Road. Being a bit of technology geek myself I jumped at the chance to find out more about Google and their roof top allotments. It turned out that one of the Google growers was even wearing Google glass – no doubt recording all the growing advice!

Image Courtesy from Indie Farmer.
Image Courtesy of the Indie Farmer.

Remember the 2012 Olympic logo? Love it or loathe it Wolff Olin Roof Top Garden were the international branding agency responsible for creating it. Based in a canal side warehouse building they created a roof top garden to grow a mixture of vegetables and herbs to be used in the staff restaurants. I met Paul Richens the architect and Head Gardner at the project to find out more.

Image Courtesy from Indie Farmer.
Image Courtesy of the Indie Farmer.

Transformed from a derelict shop on Dalston Lane into an urban farm and aquaponic’s centre – I interviewed the Something & Son team behind the project – FARM: shop Aquaponics.

Finally it is clear that Urban growing has become so popular in London that there are now trade shows dedicated to it. Grow London’s upscale designer urban gardening show, based in Hampstead Heath, launched last year to much fanfare. I went down to find out what all the fuss was about and managed to do a bit of celebrity spotting too.

Follow Nigel @nigelakehurst and the Indie Farmer @indiefarm.

A week on social media.

It has been another busy week on Twitter for Urban Farming.

An Urban Farming group have tweeted about bee farming being accepted by Edmonton Council.

There have also been a variety of discussions amongst users about the design of future micro parks in London.

Farm the City London have expressed their delight about the new design for the Sensory Garden in the City.

We love that everyone is still on the Urban Farming hype!

If you like what we’ve put together, follow the Twitter accounts of the ones we have mentioned to learn about what they plan on doing about urban farming in London and their thoughts about it in the City.

Check out our twitter @urbanfarmerLDN for more tweets about urban farming!

This week on social media.

Urban Farming is creating a storm on Social Media…and we love it!

Take a look at these posts to see just how excited everyone is getting about the different ways which you can Urban Farm and how communities can get involved in London.

Go Urban Farming!

Let’s visualise urban farming!

We’ve thrown together a variety of our favourite urban farming words to make a refreshing way of representing our data!

The tree includes words such as honey, allotments, aquaponics and digs which have all been used on social media, in conversation with members of the public & on blogs.

Text data from using Tagul by Sandy Tabalo.
Text data from using Tagul by Sandy Tabalo.

We wanted to publicise the importance of urban farming in a fun and creative way which would make people remember certain phrases and words which relate to it.

This was proved from speaking to Sarah from Deen City Farm who explained that many people around the local area – including Wimbledon and Colliers Wood were unaware that there was an urban farm on their doorstep.

She further explained to us the importance of urban farming and her daily routine:

Enjoy, don’t forget to go urban farming and send us anymore buzzwords you can think of!

Love food? Then start loving bees

Most people probably don’t appreciate bees as much as they should. Sure, people like honey, but otherwise probably consider bees a stinging nuisance. Au contraire! Bees are of vital importance to humans and the food we all love to consume. Without their help, almost 30% of the food we eat would not exist1. You see, crops that we harvest for food products need to be pollinated in order to successfully produce fruit. Without this pollination, you can say goodbye to strawberries, tomatoes, apples and even almonds, among others.

Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees.2

Well, big deal, you think, this just sounds like a futuristic, dystopian future, right? Not quite. Bee populations have been steadily declining for years. It is estimated that the number of bee colonies in the UK has fallen by 53% between 1985 and 20053.

Main causes

There are several factors which have contributed to a decline in pollinators across the globe. Bees have been affected by diseases caused by parasites which have come from imported bees. Loss of natural habitat has had devastating consequences, as well as drastic weather patterns witnessed in the last few years, where winters have been harsh and springs have been cold. These conditions are hard for bees to deal with. Recently, a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been witnessed in the USA where entire colonies die out 4. The cause for this is unknown, however there are theories that suggest that genetically modified crops may be the cause. Pollution, especially for urban population of bees, has also been attributed to the decline in bee numbers. This is particularly a problem in places like China, where bee populations are so low that flowers have to be pollinated by hand.

A devastating habit that humans have is the use of pesticides. The chemicals used in pesticides have a devastating effect on bees and have been one of the main factors in the decline of bee populations globally. This graph shows the number of incidents (unexplained deaths of bees) investigated in the UK and how many of those incidents were attributed to pesticide use.

Bee death incidents

Source: Opera Research Center 5

Although it may seem like pesticides don’t cause all the problems, it’s important to remember the data above is based only on information which was voluntarily submitted by beekeepers, so actual numbers could very much different. As outlined earlier, bee population declines have been attributed to several factors, but pesticides remain a very destructive reality. Thankfully, as they are created and used by humans, we can at least try our best to control how we use and manufacture them.

In 2013 the EU banned a number of pesticides shown to be particularly harmful to bees 6. Hopefully in the coming years, the ban will have a favourable effect on bee populations. As the graph below shows, the use of pesticides in the UK has been steadily decreasing in the last decade. If this trend continues, perhaps bee populations will level off and maybe even increase.

Use of pesticides in the UKUse of pesticides in tonnes

Source: FAO data 7

What you can do to help

The pesticide ban is a step in the right direction, but the problem of declining bee populations is still very real. The good news is everyone can do their bit! The simplest way is to plant certain types of flowers in your garden which bees love. The Royal Horticultural Society has created a handy list of plants and flowers favoured by pollinators or check out this interactive guide by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which help you identify which plants in your garden are bee-friendly. Alternatively, you can become a beekeeper! The British Beekeepers’ Association is the perfect place to start if you’re thinking of keeping hives. And if you come across a bee that is crawling about, looking weak, you can help them. Go here to learn how to revive a tired bee.

Throwing a few seeds around your garden takes seconds, so let’s all try to do our bit to help out the bees. We love our food, so we need to love our bees!

Sources

1 http://sos-bees.org/situation/

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/genetic-engineering/Bees-in-Crisis/

http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/beesreport.pdf

http://www.saveourbees.org.uk/why-are-bees-dying.html

http://operaresearch.eu/files/repository/20130122162456_BEEHEALTHINEUROPE-Facts&Figures2013.pdf

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22335520

http://faostat3.fao.org/compare/E

Southbank Centre Market

For the last five years, the Southbank Centre had been home to the Real Food Market, which has now relocated to Kings Cross. Starting April 2015, the Southbank Centre has started its own food market, which is held weekly, from Friday to Sunday. We visited this morning and feasted on delicious New Orleans-style brisket, Polish-style potatoes and coleslaw, French fries with truffle mayonnaise and freshly-squeezed juices. Yeah, we ate quite a bit.

If you are interested in selling produce at the market, you can apply to be a trader here.

We definitely recommend this market. Besides offering some delicious food, it is close to all the great attractions of the Southbank. See you there next weekend!

(Music: Sunshine City. (2010). [Purchased online] Audio Network Limited. Filming, editing, producing video: Stephanie Bosset)