The demand for food banks in the UK is on the rise and is regularly reported in the media with varying degrees of shocking statistics. Given that food banks receive significant donations from organisations with surplus food that would otherwise become food waste, and the recent initiatives to combat food waste, what will happen when food waste reduction targets are met?
There have been claims that food bank usage increases are due to delays in benefit claims, to reports that a million people accessed a food bank in the last year. This behaviour is not only happening in the UK, but in the US where 43 million people turn to a food bank each year.
What’s more, there are an increasing number of campaigns and events being used to raise funds for food banks. At a recent gig in Toronto, rock band Metallica, donated all the proceeds from the concert to the Daily Bread food bank. While in the UK, MP’s benefitting from the collapse of the pound after the Brexit announcement have been asked to donate their ‘Brexit bonus’ to food banks.
While some people may be skeptical of reports in the news, evidence from research reports back up the claims. The largest provider of food banks in the UK, the Trussel Trust, report some alarming figures:
The Trussel Trust is just one provider of emergency food in the UK. If soup kitchens, shelters and other independent food banks were included, the figures would be much higher.
Thankfully, in the UK at least, there are an increasing number of charities working to distribute surplus food and reduce food waste, including FareShare, FoodCycle and Feedback. In general this means that food banks are better stocked than ever, certainly better stocked than before these charities existed or when they relied on donations from individuals alone.
The issues surrounding food security, food poverty and the use of food banks is complex. What adds to this complex problem is a look to the future when it is hopeful that surplus food and food waste levels are drastically reduced.
Food waste awareness has come into the media spotlight in the last few years and already has resulted in supermarkets setting ambitious food waste targets. Sainsbury’s who’ve set themselves the goal of reducing their food waste by 50% is just one such example.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition that food banks, a service with such high demand, are considerably reliant on a social behaviour, food waste, that we are desperately trying to solve. Only time will tell what will happen if the food waste targets are met while the demand for food banks increases.
Like many of the issues within our food system, the problem is complex and the answer is far from simple.