Eco Comment – Food, glorious food!

16 February 2024

For the next few weeks this Eco Comment is going to be food-based. This is not meant as a cruel added temptation of Lent, but will hopefully educate us all in different ways.

Last weekend I let the sat-nav guide me to a warehouse in Leeds that I’ve been intending to visit for some time. It’s very close to the now disused Burton’s clothing factory and overlooked by several blocks of high-rise flats. I’ve seen this warehouse advertised on social media for some time. It opens its doors to the public several days of the week with no joining criteria and offers a social enterprise for food waste for individuals as well as having a catering arm for private or public functions. Food on offer is totally dependant on what is given to them. My visit was very much a learning experience.

Notices advised you to fill a box and the subsequent price to be paid was dependant on how much you took. Around the space were supermarket trays on shelving units with mainly vegetables and bakery products (lots of bread!) plus several fridges and freezers. In the middle of the floor were some pallets of a variety of goods but what got my attention were the pallets of small round plastic and foil containers containing spice mixes of the sort that might be attached to jars of sauce. There were approximately 4 square metres of these little tubs and each one was sufficient to flavour a meal for two. They came in a variety of flavourings, from mild Korma to hot Madras. I wondered why they were there? I asked if someone could speak to me and the nominated person very kindly spent some time explaining how the system worked.

The spices might have been donated due to several reasons. One might be that the company producing the product might have changed it’s packaging, so these small containers would no longer be fit for purpose. It’s cheaper/easier for the company to throw them away.

Another reason might be that a certain number of a product is ordered and subsequently manufactured, but maybe a thousand more will be produced in case of breakages or not passing quality control or an ‘end run’. If these extra units are surplus to requirements, they are disposed of or given away.

Although there weren’t any tinned goods available it was suggested that they might well be donated because if a tin explodes in transit it effectively contaminates the whole pallet and it’s cheaper/easier for the company to send it to landfill or donate it than pay someone to clean up the other tins.

Another reason for goods being available is down to bottlenecks in delivery. They were expecting to be sent goods the following week due to the ‘snow day’ that we’d had recently. Orders are placed far in advance of expected sales. The logistics for delivery must be an absolute nightmare. Deliveries are scheduled to tight deadlines and happen on specific dates. If anything untoward stops or delays deliveries, there is not necessarily room in the warehouse for the extra goods, so it is written off and sent to landfill or diverted to companies such as Fare Share or Surplus to Purpose. These goods haven’t even got as far as the supermarket!

Occasionally a supermarket will cancel a shipment, but it could be that it’s already in the production or delivery chain. I was told about a shipment of plums that had been donated once. There were so many that the staff and volunteers were experimenting with recipes to encourage customers to find new ways of using them.

We then considered the vegetables; carrots in particular. Carrots are naturally grown and can’t really be grown to a regulation size. We all know that, but quality control is very much a human endeavour and expectations as to what we should buy differ, so what might be accepted as a marketable carrot in one supermarket would be rejected by another.

There are high end carrots – the perfect shape. Normal – some might be shorter or longer but still fairly uniform. Then wonky – misshapen or maybe chopped in half where the harvesting machine has caught them, and a new term for me: ‘donky’. These are the ones that might have grown in an odd shape or split in the growing and might resemble something or someone. These are rarely seen for sale, but they are still more than edible.

This led us on to a conversation about the environmental impact of such issues and the distinction between food waste and food poverty. There will be more on this subject next week.

There are many food waste enterprises like this one across the country, a quick Google search will tell you where your nearest one is.

If you would like to comment on any of the issues raised please contact the Eco Group at the cathedral at:

Thank you.

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

Want to know more about the Eco Group?

Wakefield Cathedral’s Eco Group brings together members of the congregation, volunteers and staff to work towards making the cathedral a greener place to work and worship.

The Eco Group achieves its goals through a variety of activities, including partnerships with local community groups.

We invite anyone and everyone to reach out if they are interested in joining the eco group, or simply finding out more about what we do.

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