The demand for food banks in the UK is constantly on the rise. The issues are regularly reported in the media with varying degrees of shocking statistics.
Food banks receive significant donations from organisations with surplus food that would otherwise become food waste.
So, with increasing initiatives to combat food waste, what will happen when food waste reduction targets are met and there’s no food to give to food banks?
Flying Demand for Food Banks
It was reported in April that food bank use in the UK had reached its highest ever rate. This is in part due to benefits not covering the rising basic costs of living. While some people may be skeptical of reports in the news, evidence from research reports back up the claims.
The Trussell Trust end of year report revealed that their food banks had given 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis in the year 2017-2018. This is a 13% increase on the previous year.
The Trussell 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.
This behaviour is not only happening in the UK, but also in the US, where Feeding America provides food assistance to an estimated 46.5 million people annually.
Who Can Use Food Banks?
Some local food banks don’t require a referral and have their own criteria. However, a large number of food banks do require referral. People looking to use a food bank can be referred by a charity, or someone like a GP or social worker.
A good place for more advice is a local Citizens Advice, who can assess and decide if someone is eligible for the food bank (based on factors such as income and family size) and then can explain further how to get the necessary food.
There are an increasing number of campaigns and events being used to raise funds for food banks.
In Birmingham, for example, Birmingham Live recently got together some well known faces to help collect 100 tonnes of food (the equivalent of 100,000 meals) for food banks across the city.
In America, rock metal band Metallica founded their own charitable foundation All Within My Hands, and launched a “Metallica Day of Service” encouraging fans to volunteer for a day at a community food bank.
Distributing Food Fairly
In the UK there are an increasing number of charities working to distribute surplus food and reduce food waste, including FareShare, FoodCycle and Feedback. Generally speaking, this means that food banks are better stocked than ever. At the least, food banks are 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 we hope that surplus food and food waste levels are drastically reduced.
Food Banks versus Food Waste
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. Tesco, for example, was the first supermarket to sign up to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of halving food waste by 2030. Aldi has also now made this commitment, while most other supermarkets have a lesser goal of a 20% food waste reduction by 2025.
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.