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Posted by on Jan 5, 2016 | 1 comment

Foodcycle: Food waste and food poverty

You will find Foodcycle in Norwich, a city located in the east of England. Dave introduced me to this initiative and told me “come on, try it and see how you like it!” He goes there more or less every Friday to have dinner because, not only because he’s a lover of food and everything that surrounds it, but he’s also passionate about this initiative. While I write this I can already say that it’s my fourth visit to Foodcycle, and since it’s a very “Buscant Llavors” initiative, I’ve decided to write a brief report about it.

While we wait seated outside “Friends Meeting House”, bicycles full of food are arriving. Foodcycle volunteers have spent the past few hours collecting food from supermarkets. Every Friday, employees from various supermarkets wait for them with leftover food and food they couldn’t sell. Inside the “Friends Meeting House” there’s a medium-sized kitchen which has enough space for approximately ten people who will sort, peel and cut the vegetables that the bicycles drop off.  There are already pots on the stove filled with the potatoes which arrived a few minutes ago. Todays menu includes potato soup, melon and salad for appetizers. After that, cous cous with eggplant stew, zucchini and various other vegetables along with arugula salad with tomatoes. For dessert there’s chocolate cake with pineapple and fruit salad. As always, it’s a vegetarian or vegan menu.

Like every Friday from 4pm to 7pm, when the kitchen opens to the public, various volunteers work together to make the supermarkets unwanted food into a meal that feeds fifty people in Norwich; from the homeless to students. Young people with university shirts mix with older people who are approaching seventy years of age and couples with small children. Rowan, the coordinator of this initiative, tells us that the objective of Foodcycle is for it to be a place of social inclusion. In fact, it isn’t the first time that Dave and I have enjoyed not only the food, but also the conversation at Foodcycle with people around our age (between 25 and 35) as well as people much older or younger. Actually, every person who comes to eat at Foodcycle has a very different economic situation and this is what makes the project a place of de-stigmatization. Dave and I are surprised when one of the regulars tells us that he had no idea that the food was a product of supermarket waste. Whilst talking to people, we realized that various people consider it another soup kitchen; well, another soup kitchen that also makes delicious food. Here there are people who come to support the sustainability of the planet (taking advantage of food) and others that simply come so they can eat a plate of hot food.

Foodcycle is also present in various other parts of England. In fact, there are 21 centers in England that are manned by volunteers. The co-ordination and logistics of the centers is handled by 12 people who work for the NGO, which is also responsible for promoting the initiative in other parts of England. In order to be able to pay their salaries there’s an Acquisition of Funds Department that is in charge of searching for grants and allows a small group of people to dedicate all their time to coordinating and carrying out this initiative feasibly in more places where it’s needed. In addition, as they point out, Foodcycle mainly benefits from 3 donations: food from supermarkets, time from volunteers and unused space (kitchen and dining halls) donated by various buildings. With these three types of donations they tackle two common issues in England (and in many other countries): food waste and poverty, which are found in the same place. The initiative also accepts monetary donations which are used to buy pots or utensils for the kitchen, like dish towels and soap.  

The human part of this project is what fascinates me the most. In contrast to other initiatives that we have visited with Buscant Llavors, this project doesn’t present an alternative to the system, rather it benefits from the wastefulness of the global food system and the leading industry; but with its work it also denounces the wastefulness and raises awareness. Rowan and Lucy tell us that, even though they love being involved in Foodcycle, they would prefer that its existence wasn’t needed; they say the best thing would be for everyone to eat local, organic food and for food to be used sustainably so it doesn’t have to be thrown away.

The critical view would be to argue that this initiative is a stopgap for the serious problem of societies driven by the capitalist model. Efforts must be invested in eradicating the root cause of the problem: consumerism, cultivating and consuming only local products, lobbying big supermarkets not to waste food, constructing alternatives that assure that we don’t need supermarkets on such a large scale. In addition, doesn’t it help supermarkets to free themselves of any blame by giving food to Foodcycle? Surely they clean up their image a little, clear their conscience and who knows? Maybe they’re using it as a marketing opportunity. Even so, the fight to find solutions for food production, distribution and consumption can be like taking advantage of the gaps in the system to help social inclusion, people who live with minimal economic resources and not wasting so much food. In my opinion, the fight needs to be more widespread. Some of my friends have started to grow their own organic garden and already have their own community of local organic consumers. They themselves eat dinner at Foodcycle once in a while. I personally believe the system is so damaged that we need temporary solutions while we create long-term ones.

Another possible criticism is: What will happen if Foodcycle disappears one day? We’re not helping to empower people, but rather creating dependency. This viewpoint runs through my mind as I taste the vegetable stew and speak to a woman seated next to me who struggles to speak due to her advanced age, but nevertheless tells me things about her life. While we talk, I realize that this space is actually an important place for socialization. I don’t know how much socialization helps one to feel empowered, but what I observe is that approximately half of the people that come are part of the community of people who suffer from economic difficulties and many of them meet each other every Friday to talk and share their life stories. I think coming here helps them, not only by being able to eat for free, but also by being able to be in a space where they can share stories and debate issues that bother them. As it is my fourth time, I am already starting to get to know some people and so when I go to get my main meal, Hazel greets me and we talk for a while. Hazel, who has to be around 30 years old and an English teacher, comes every Friday to enjoy Foodcycle; it is a pleasure speaking to her.

When I return from getting dessert, another person is now seated at our table and we talk for a long time about religion and about their children who haven’t lived in Norwich for a long time. Once again, I stop myself from chatting with my critical spirit which, as always, wants to impose its opinion. Therefore, I listen to it, thank it and its arguments reasoning, but I also tell it that life isn’t perfect and that academic theories and criticisms are necessary and should be applied concurrently. In practice, Norwich is a much better place for many people thanks to Foodcycle.

For more information (in English): http://foodcycle.org.uk/ or http://foodcycle.org.uk/location/norwich/
To read more about issues related to food, we recommend the following documentaries:

Wrote by Cristina Bajet.

See the pictures of this project bellow:

foodcycle_21399310151_o

Learn more about this project at:

http://foodcycle.org.uk/

1 Comment

  1. Whoever wrote this, you know how to make a good arecilt.

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