This article is re-posted with permission from Cardiff Community Couch. The original version can be found here.
It was never a secret that a huge proportion of supermarket food goes to waste. But when Tesco published its waste figures for the first time last week, it really put the problem into perspective.
The study, carried out in conjunction with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), revealed 28,500 tonnes of food were wasted in Tesco’s stores and distribution centres in the first six months of 2013. Tesco stores and its customers threw away two thirds of its bagged salads, almost half its baked goods and 40% of its apples.
Of course this is bad news for the company, but what is the extent of the impact on everyone else? Tesco’s research also revealed that food waste costs families in the UK about £700 a year.
Tesco has pledged to make changes to its policies, and has also recently announced it will be increasing its partnership with food charity FareShare. The corporation will donate about seven million meals worth of its fresh food a year to the charity, providing much-needed resources to services that have increasingly been put under pressure since the advent of the recession.
There are already many organisations who work tirelessly to help people who can’t afford to feed themselves. Cardiff Foodbank is just one of many food charities in Wales, but it’s also one of the most popular. I visited one of the food bank’s Woodville collection point on Crwys Road last weekend to find out just how much the local community relies on its services.
So far this financial year, about 1,200 people will have received almost ten tons of food via Woodville Christian Centre. Cardiff Foodbank’s Project Manager Ian Purcell tells me it is one of the city’s biggest food collection points.
There is a distinct atmosphere of warmth as I walk into the centre. Volunteers, who proudly wear their green polo shirts, emblazoned with the charity’s logo, offer me a warm welcome and a cup of tea. I’m waiting to speak to Saturday’s team leader, Bruce Hurrell, who is chatting cheerfully with those who have come to receive food packages today.
Two men bundled up in heavy coats are having an animated discussion, despite their weary appearances, over steaming mugs of tea and a plate of biscuits. A timid-looking young couple are next to come through the door with their child in a pushchair, who looks about four or five years old. Their smiles suggest they are happy and relieved to be getting help from the food bank, although they are not confident enough to talk to me about their reasons for coming here. As volunteer Ann Roberts tells me, it takes courage to present yourself at a food bank as a last resort.
I ask her if she’s had any particularly memorable encounters with people who have used the food bank. She tells me she’s been moved to tears on some occasions.
The woman from Ann’s anecdote isn’t the only one to want to give something back when easier times come around. Leanne Mackay is just one of the food bank’s many returning users who says she would like to volunteer for the centre once her situation has improved.
When I finally get a chance to speak to Bruce, he emphasises that the food bank is primarily for emergency use, not a service people should rely on permanently. Each person or family can only exchange vouchers for food at the bank a total of three times, although he does say they never like to turn people away. As such, there are sometimes exceptions, as more and more people find themselves in long-term financial hardship.
He tells me food banks receive very little cash funding. Instead, they rely almost entirely on food donations from the general public and local businesses. Interestingly, he says Cardiff University is the biggest single donor to the food bank in the area.
Bruce says the busiest period for food banks is the run-up to Christmas. The severity of the problem truly struck me when Bruce told me people this winter may have to make a choice between warmth and eating.
Although most of the visitors to the food bank are individuals and families, other volunteering organisations depend on its services as well. Yasmin Khan is a volunteer at refugee charity Sova, and has come to the food bank today to pick up food for a group of refugees.
She says, although food banks provide an excellent service, many refugees and immigrants don’t know where to find them. Raising awareness of how to access these services is vital for people who have lost everything and who are struggling get by in a strange new place, she tells me.
My visit to the food bank collection point has motivated me to apply to volunteer there myself. But I, like many others, am concerned about whether I will be able to juggle volunteering alongside studying a full-time MA. Before I leave, volunteer Gavin Davis tells me he manages to fit in two hours a week working for the food bank even alongside playing in four bands and working two jobs! Food for thought indeed.