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  • Writer's pictureBeth Jones

Rethinking Food lessons to be learned from the corona virus

I’ve been thinking about food a lot recently, even more than usual if that’s possible. I refuse to panic buy and stockpile and I can’t cook for my lovely customers, many of whom have had to cancel long planned weddings and life events due to lockdown. It is a strange state of affairs for me as food shopping and ordering has been a huge part of my life, and I am used to making my family meals form leftovers or over ordered food….(which they love).

Were all spending a lot more time doing certain things whilst confined to our homes. Rarely has my house been so tidy and my Garden so well-tended.

One of the things that I don’t want to believe is that we are going to experience, long-term food shortages, even so I am definitely being more self-disciplined. Meals are better planned, portions controlled a bit more and best before dates paid much more attention to. Under normal circumstances, I can be guilty of buying too much, eventually succumbing to throwing the watery cucumber out of my home fridge or never using the last bits of a tube of Tomato puree and I almost always seem to throw a cabbage away…..and I love cabbage!.

I read some interesting and saddening statistics that every year 10.2m tonnes of food is wasted in the UK, of which 7.3m comes from households. 4.4m tonnes of this is deemed ‘avoidable’ i.e. bread that is left to go mouldy, versus eggshells, meat bones or banana skins. The economic cost of this waste is £470 a year for the average UK household. So, it’s possible for me to throw out half the food that I currently do and I have an extra £25-35 in my pocket every month – seems worthwhile to test this out over the next few weeks for many different reasons.

In addition environmental charities estimate 10.7bn pieces of mostly non-recyclable packaging are generated by the take-away industry every year. One survey last year (of more than 1200 workers) found an average lunch purchase included four packaged items, with 76% of shoppers picking up a main item such as a boxed sandwich, 70% a packet of crisps or another snack and 65% a napkin. Lunch-on-the-go items create huge levels of waste and unfortunately much of this isn’t recyclable as it’s made from mixed materials or it isn’t recycled due to contamination from food residue. I recognise that this is less relevant now, but we can all learn things and choose not to return to all our bad habits when we re-emerge.

The average UK household spends 10.6% of their income on food and non-alcoholic drinks. However, for households in the bottom income quintile, this increases to 15.2%. There is, of course, socio-economic variation in our ability to cope with shortages of everyday products.

Food banks across the country are struggling to keep up with demand as donations drop during the pandemic. Some food banks are experiencing dwindling supplies of vital products as shoppers strip supermarkets shelves bare to stockpile. Food banks have also seen numbers of volunteers fall, as many are forced to self-isolate at home. A food bank near me fed nearly 6000 people last year a 16%– increase from 2018. She said that over the coming weeks, as the pandemic intensifies, she expected to see a change in the type of customer visiting the charity. “I think, as this crisis deepens, we will start seeing people who wouldn’t normally have to visit a food bank. It is likely to be a different demographic. This could be down to people losing their jobs, being ill and having their hours cut and struggling financially.”

In June 2015, an independent survey of 70 food banks across the country, conducted by the bank thinkmoney, found that benefit sanctions and late benefits payments were the main reasons people rely on food banks. Furthermore, 60% of food bank users are estimated to go without adequate levels of food on a regular basis to ensure their families are fed. The main way independent food banks acquire funding is through donations from the general public. I think it’s obvious what I need to do with that £25-35/month I can gain with better habits.

We should ask ourselves, after the current crisis passes, should we be turning our attention to people in our own society who worry about having not enough food on a daily basis? I think we all know the answer is Yes.

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