Yesterday there was such a thing as a free lunch. Spirits were high, despite the rain, sleet and cold, as hundreds waited in line for their free lunch of hot curried vegetables. Others queued for free groceries, and others for fresh fruit smoothies. The event was called "Feeding the 5000" and it was organised to highlight the global problems with food waste.
All the food was donated by farmers, packers and supermarkets. The fresh fruits and vegetables had been rejected because they were imperfectly shaped, past their sell-by date or the wrong size or shape. Instead the fresh food was turned into a feast by hard-working volunteers who cooked up bubbling hot vegetable curry with the left-overs.
It all starts with the Bible: In Luke, five loaves and two fish were enough to feed five thousand. That was the beginning for food activist Tristram Stuart, along with FareShare and other charities who organised the feast.
All the ingredients were collected from local supermarkets. Organisers cooked up a ton of wonky carrots, mis-shapen potatoes, and parsnips, and three-quarters of a ton of onions. Cumin for an extra spicy hit and (irregularly shaped) pieces of toast were offered as well as plates and cutlery.
The fruit smoothies made of apples, oranges, grapes and bananas were doled out in cups. Apparently all were made by bicycle power, although with only one bicycle on hand it seems incredible.
Any leftover food will be distributed by FareShare, to homeless shelters and other needy people. But from the crowd waiting patiently, it didn't seem like much would be left.
It's all for a good cause: highlight and educating people about the scale of food waste here. In London alone, 750,000 slices of bread are thrown away by consumers every day, and 176,000 bananas.
But household wastage represents less than 40% of food wastage. In fact retailers and manufacturers are responsible for the greater amount. The group "This is Rubbish" wants the government to "introduce an obligation upon retailers to reduce food waste. We want to see all retailers obliged to report on the food waste they generate in their activities, with annual reports audited and publicised by an independent commission."
A number of different organisations were involved. Fareshare is the largest food redistribution charity in the UK. They collect surplus food from supermarkets and manufacturers and deliver it to homeless shelters and other community centres for society's vulnerable. Save the Children and ActionAid are both international organisations involved with food issues. In fact "food waste is not just a problem in rich countries: even in hungry parts of the world farmers can lose up to a half of their crops because they lack the basic agricultural infrastructure to get it to market before it spoils."