That was the question put to our two expert speakers in the July meeting of the Food Ethics Council’s Business Forum.
Over a sustainably sourced meal we explored the role businesses should play in helping alleviate short- and long-term household food insecurity in the UK.
Lindsay Boswell is CEO of FareShare, a national charity that redistributes surplus food from industry to fight hunger and tackle food waste.
Professor Elizabeth Dowler, of the University of Warwick, is a leading expert on food poverty and Food Ethics Council member. The meeting was chaired by David Croft, Director of Quality and Technical at Waitrose and also Food Ethics Council member.
Together they discussed the role for businesses in tackling food poverty, including how and whether food redistribution can help address issues of food poverty and food waste.
According to FareShare there are 5.8 million people living in food poverty in the UK. At the same time, 3.9 million tonnes of food is wasted every year by the food and drink industry – of which around 10% is surplus and fit for consumption.
By distributing this surplus food to people in need, organisations like FareShare are trying to alleviate the immediate symptoms of food poverty in some of Britain’s most needy individuals.
We heard how the evidence shows that food poverty is on the rise in the UK, such as in a report published in February this year by the Food Ethics Council and University of Warwick.
We discussed the factors that may have contributed to this rise, including cost of living inflation, economic austerity and reductions in entitlements and levels of social security and other benefits.
There was a clear feeling that food businesses can (and should) play a role in helping reduce food poverty, and that this can be done in a number of ways.
They can work with charities like FareShare to redistribute their surplus to those most in need, in the short-term. But because this is a ‘sticking plaster’ solution that gets people through the day, but doesn’t get them out of poverty, a longer term solution is also needed.
By signing up to a living wage for their lowest paid workers, food businesses can improve the quality of life of their employees significantly, giving them the opportunity to afford healthy and nutritious food.
Redistributing food surplus is surely a good thing. It reduces food waste and alleviates hunger at the same time. But arguably there should neither be food waste nor hunger in the UK’s food system – and that’s where government comes in.
If food businesses collectively deliver good working contracts for all their employees, and lobby government to make that mandatory employment practice, perhaps we can see a shift towards a fairer society.
Download the Food Ethics Council and the University of Warwick's report: