Written by Stephen O’Brien
The consumer society is filled with abundance, yet some live-in deprivation.
“Once poverty is gone, we’ll need to build museums to display its horrors to future generations. They’ll wonder why poverty continued so long in human society – how a few people could live in luxury while billions dwelt in misery deprivation and despair.” Muhammad Yunus.
Poverty and food insecurity has been a global issue that has plagued society since the dawn of time. If we attempt to reduce our food wastage by just 25% there would be enough food to feed all the people in society who are malnourished, according to the UN. [i]
One in nine people in the world were suffering from chronic malnourishment during 2014 – 2016.[ii] It is estimated that 795 million people are suffering from severe hunger and malnutrition globally today. [iii] Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food, (approximately a third of all that is produced), is wasted. Broken down, it is: 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of all cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat. [iv]
The waste of some 1.3 billion tonnes of food each year is causing economic losses of $750 billion and significant damage to the environment, according to a United Nations report launched on the 11 of September 2013.
The report, “Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources”, is the first study to analyse the impacts of global food wastage from an environmental perspective, looking specifically at its consequences for the climate, water and land use, and biodiversity.
– Click Here – Listen to a snippet of Cry104FM’s Gerry Murray who interviews Stephen O’Brien on food waste –
One of the key findings of the report was that food that is produced but not eaten each year guzzles up a volume of water equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River and is responsible for adding 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the planet’s atmosphere. Similarly, 1.4 billion hectares of land – 28% of the world’s agricultural area – is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.[v]
Beyond the environmental impacts, food wastage costs some $750 billion annually to food producers.[vi]
In Europe, over 80 million people live below the poverty line and among them, 30 million are living malnourished. In Ireland, 1 in 8 people experience some form of food poverty, while in contrast, 1 million tonnes of food is thrown out by business and households in Ireland yearly. This apparent waste sees households throwing away approximately €700 worth of food each year.
- 60% is avoidable food waste and includes food like plate scrapings, leftovers, gone off fruit and veg, passed its date perishables, etc. This is the main area where people can save money and usually just requires a bit more awareness of how best to manage their food.
- 20% is potentially avoidable food waste, things like bread crusts, potato skins, etc. These are food wastes that are often related to habits and, as with any habit, changing can be hard.
-Last few years-
Andy Storey wrote an article published in the Dublin Inquirer in November 2016 stating: “In 2013, the most recent year for which we have data, the Department of Social Protection estimated that 600,000 people were experiencing food poverty in Ireland, up from 450,000 in 2010. The manager of the Capuchin Day Centre on Bow Street, Smithfield, which operates a food-distribution facility, has spoken of ‘the new food poor … Many have a house or a home, but don’t have anything in the fridge’.””[vii]
According to a UNICEF report released in April of 2016, it documented that almost a third of all Irish children, were living in deprived households during 2013.
Households are deprived if they cannot afford at least three items from a list of essential items, as defined by the EU. Those items are housing, heating, utility bills, a protein meal every second day; the ability to face unexpected expenses; a holiday, a phone, a TV, a washing machine or a car.[viii]
In an interview with the Journal.ie and Michelle Murphy, research and policy analyst at Social Justice Ireland, Murphy stated “despite the increases in income, there are still over 790,000 people living in poverty in Ireland and that is unacceptable.” The Central Statistics Office have shown that just over one in six people in Ireland are at risk of poverty, of this 790,000-people living in poverty 105,051 are actually living in poverty while employed. Although these trends are based off of 2015 so it does not necessarily describe today’s current situation.[ix]
According to a policy document released by Social Justice Ireland (SJI) in July of 2016 – “The number of people living in poverty in Ireland has increased by more than 100,000 since the onset of the recession – meaning that 750,000 people in Ireland are currently living in poverty.”
Dr. Sean Healy Director of SJI in an interview with The Journal.ie stated “One in five Irish people who have jobs are living in poverty” [x]
As you will see below the crisis of food poverty is quite clearly visible in Ireland at the tail end of 2016.
During Christmas 2016 at Capuchin centre in Dublin City Centre they gave out over 3,000 food parcels to those in need according to Kevin Crowley, who runs the centre.[xi]
A food bank in Limerick ran out of food parcels after handing out 2,500 of them to struggling families and individuals in the city on the 22nd of December 2016. Unfortunately, they had to turn away over 100 people as they run out of supplies.
The service is a collaboration between the Redemptorist order and St Vincent de Paul, which has been operating since the 1970s.[xii]
In Ireland, social enterprise such as FoodCloud and Bia Food Initiative are leading the way in providing a platform for surplus food and a means of redistributing commercial surplus to organisations/ charities that work with the most vulnerable in society. These initiatives benefit from the operational support of many charities, NGO’s and volunteers who are willing to contribute their time and efforts for a good cause.
Crosscare first established The Dublin Food Bank in 1989 and it was designed to collect surplus food products from food producers, supermarkets and manufacturers etc. and then redistribute the donated product to over 70 charities working to help those marginalised, excluded and /or living in poverty. The service has traditionally diverted close to 500 tonnes per annum away from landfill and towards those in need, which was expected to surpass 750 tonnes by the end of 2013.
Foodcloud was a socially minded business venture created between Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien, who met at Trinity College. Their first farmers market in Glasnevin, Dublin in 2015 was when they received their first batch of unsold perishable goods and was redistributed to charities as they saw fit. The objective was simple take leftover or unwanted food and give it to those in need through using their app or website.
Since its inception Foodcloud has gone from strength to strength going from national success to international success, as they are now operating between the UK and Ireland. It was the Tesco on Talbot Street in Dublin that first tried the app – and it was clear that demand was there. Located in the north inner city near some of the most deprived areas of the capital, the unsold food was gratefully received by numerous charities who distributed it to the disadvantaged residents.[xiii]
In September of 2014 the first surplus food distribution centre was launched in Cork. The Operation was called the Bia Food initiative, which ranin conjunction with the Cork Food Bank and Food Cloud. Between September 2014 and April 2015, the food distribution hub distributed over 120 tonnes or 300,000 meals. The initiative works in conjunction with 44 different charities distributing excess food to people in need through organisation like St Vincent de Paul, Cork Simon, Cork Penny Dinners and many others.
Cork is the first city in Ireland to have a surplus food distribution hub, and the first city in the world to have a hub and a food cloud. The food cloud is an app developed by students whereby businesses advise participants of available food by text message, which the charity then collects the food and distributes it to its clients.[xiv]
-France leading the way-
Just over a year ago, France introduced a law preventing supermarkets from throwing away unsold food that is still edible. After the introduction of this law it is estimated that over 5,000 associations were created in France for redistributing purposes, subsequently providing over 10 million meals to those in need. There are two key objectives of this law. Firstly it makes it illegal for supermarkets to throw away edible food. Secondly redistributing this food to those in need. The French politician responsible for the introduction of this law is ArashDerambarsh .
Arash Derambarsh is a municipal councillor for the “Divers Droit” (diverse right) in Courbevoie, north-west of Paris. He persuaded French MPs to adopt the regulation after his petition on Change.org gained more than 200,000 signatures and celebrity support in just four months. [xv]
In an interview with Solutionism, Derambarsh stated “Its execution is simple, from now on any French citizen can create their own association and claim the unsold food of a supermarket. If the supermarket refuses, it will have to pay a fine of 3,750 euros.”
“I personally believe that what is important is to provide food for those in need. How can we accept that in the richest countries in the world there are hungry people? Not only is it economical nonsense to tolerate food waste but it is also a social nonsense to have people sleeping just few meters away from perfectly edible food sitting in bin cans and that are deliberately destroyed.”
-Ability to harness social media and online activism-
Derambarsh discussing how he locally got involved with launching this policy; “When I started my fight against food waste in Courbevoie only a few people were there to help me but as we distributed more and more food every week it caught people’s interest. When you are alone you have very little power.
Derambarsh outlined how social media and his petition on Change.org kept the issue in the public’s attention and the spotlight on the policy makers; “I knew from the beginning that a law was needed and I also knew that to press our representatives I had to have the support of thousands of citizens to catch the attention of our elected leaders. In the end, over 200, 000 people signed this petition and this law was voted unanimously for a large part thanks to every one of them. Citizens have the power to do great things and online petitions and social media have the power to create a movement that is able to achieve anything.When people have the power to share posts on a subject, to comment on pictures, to talk freely about it, it puts a constant pressure on politicians to act.
In addition to that, the support that has been given to this cause has shown that it was a citizen’s demand and that a lot of them wanted to do something about it. More over when pressures from lobbies appeared during the legislative process we held on because politicians were scrutinized by the citizens and in the end it was voted unanimously.”
Potential for its implementation in Ireland?
In an interview with The Irish Times last year, FoodCloud said Ireland was the first country to begin moving towards “holistic solutions” for surplus food. Iseult Ward, chief executive, said: “It would be great to see a similar law introduced in Ireland, however, establishing a scalable and sustainable model for redistribution of that surplus food has its challenges and there’s work to do to ensure the infrastructure is in place to support charities in availing of this food.” Ms Wood said investment would be required in transport and vehicles so charities could collect food. Bigger freezers for storing would be needed.[xvi]
When asked about the potential of Ireland implementing a similar policy, Derambarsh stated “Not only do I think that such a law could be implemented but I think it should (be implemented). Food waste is a global issue and all developed countries experience it. The FAO estimated that over one third of all food produced worldwide is wasted. This represents 1.3 billion tonnes of perfectly edible food thrown away every year. We need to change our habits and Ireland is not an exception. Here 1 million tonnes of food is wasted every year while one Irish out of seven goes hungry.”
The contrast – America
Edward Delman in an article for The Atlantic stated the difference between the US and France when it comes to the issue of food wastage; “The United States approach is completely different to Frances’, as they have legal framework in place that encourages food donations.”[xvii]
Beyond tax incentives there is also the United States Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act mentioned above was passed in 1966, which stated grocery stores and charity organizations were not liable if a consumer were to get sick from eating donated food. The condition was that stores and charities acted in good faith and did not intentionally try to harm others.
A study on food wastage carried out in 2012 by the environmental non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council found “American supermarkets say that they donate millions of pounds of food each year. Some food recovery organizations in the country also collect edible food deemed unsellable during other stages of the supply chain, such as at produce farms and at food packaging companies.”
But the Council estimated that in all, only about 10 % of all the available, edible wasted food is recovered each year. They cited several reasons for the small percentage, including lack of awareness among food companies about the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, and company fears about negative publicity should their donated food cause a food-borne illness.[xviii]
Helder Camara’s famous quote “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist” leads me to assume that we as a society must question how we can have such an abundance of food, yet allow so much go to waste, while millions live in abject poverty, starving around the world. Another interesting quote I recently stumbled across was from an article by Graham Riches for The Guardian “As leading US food policy expert Janet Poppendieck argues, food charity’s primary function is one of “symbolic value” … “relieving us of guilt and discomfort about hunger”, while serving as a moral safety valve as hunger marches on. Food banks are part of the problem, not the solution to food poverty.”
The United States has a completely different solution to this crisis and ArashDerambarsh stated “I personally believe that any initiative that aims to reduce food waste is a good initiative. However, I also believe that solely relying on the goodwill of private parties cannot be the solution. A law treats everybody equally and forces every supermarket to donate. By doing so we also make supermarkets aware of their responsibility.”
Poppendieck analyse and view of food banks is similar to that ofDerambarsh’s , both indicate the need for government involvement instead of an over reliance on charitable organisations to provide solutions to this epidemic.
Derambarsh added “We are here talking about people, the silent lower middle class, that have no money after paying their rents. For them, a bag of healthy food means the world and it is not on them that profits should be made. We are talking about food that would otherwise go to the bin, if the supermarkets don’t want to distribute then they should first stop wasting.”
In addition to France’s introduction of this law Italy followed soon after with a very similar law based on the same premise of reducing food wastage.[xix] Derambarsh stated “There are a lot of steps leading to the final product that you find in your plate. In all of these steps there is waste. From the farmer that doesn’t pick up fruits that are not calibrated to the supermarkets that pour bleach on their unsold food to finally the consumer that has bought too much food, there is over a billion tonness of food that are wasted every year. We need to fight this fatality!”
Read More about Arash Derambarsh – http://www.arashderambarsh.eu/biographie/