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What Lockdown Is Teaching Us About Food Waste

By Olivia Griffiths

The last few weeks have been a strange time for us all. For many of us, life has been turned upside down as we try and juggle working life with family and other responsibilities. Our relationships have changed as chats, coffees and catch ups with friends are either by phone, video or on hold for now and the headlines are a constant reminder that our key workers are the real heroes in the war against COVID-19.

It has also been a strange time when it comes to our relationship as a nation with food. Photos of empty supermarket shelves have been replaced by snaps of overflowing bins as stockpiled food spoils, following a £2bn spree from UK shoppers.

Long, formal queues outside supermarkets have become the norm, as we all stand two metres apart and wait to see what is in stock. Ingredients like flour and yeast, which precious few of us would have had on our shopping lists two months ago, are like gold dust and wartime recipes, without flour, butter and eggs are doing the rounds on social media.

Food has become a top concern for all households for the first time in decades, regardless of wealth, and it’s made a lot of us stop and think about what it really means to live from hand to mouth. When we are caught up in our usual daily lives, it is easy for us to forget that this is the way a lot of families live every day, given that around 1.6 million people in the UK used food banks last year.

For the more fortunate among us, it’s also shown us how used we have become to eating what we want, when we want it, without worrying about whether or not we use up everything we bought the previous week.

British households are normally responsible for around 50 per cent of total UK food waste, throwing away about 4.5m tonnes each year at a cost of £700 per household, according to Waste and Resources Action Plan. By contrast, food wholesalers and supermarkets in the UK typically only waste around 0.5% of stock. But COVID-19 has hit wholesalers who supply the c. 26,000 restaurants which are usually open in the UK. Stuck with nowhere to send their food, they are having to chuck huge amounts of fresh produce as it turns.

Following the panic buying in March, warehouses which had been stripped bare of frozen goods are filling up again and with no restaurants, cafes or hotels to sell to, food wholesalers are set to have a big problem on their hands in a few weeks’ time as stocks mount up and space runs out. The super-sized packaging and different labelling also means that they can’t just sell their produce to the man on the street.

One of the main reasons we set up The Merstham Mix Café was to tackle food waste by channelling quality surplus food into a fresh, healthy and delicious daily menu. Since our café has been closed, following the UK government advice, we have been busy ensuring that food donations are put to good use in a different way – taking wholesome daily dishes to some of the community’s most vulnerable people via a meal delivery service.

Like a lot of other organisations, the last few weeks has forced us to rethink the way we support the community we serve. Thanks to our experienced, passionate and dedicated staff who are supported by a team of volunteers – old and new – we’ve been able to quickly adapt and get this off the ground. Our mission to turn donated food into nutritious meals may never have been more vital.

If you would like to help The Merstham Mix please donate here. https://mersthammix.org.uk/donate/ 

In the meantime, let’s all dig deep and see what inspiring recipes we can come up with by opening Grandma’s cookbook and raiding the back of the tin cupboard!

Stay safe and keep cooking,

From The Merstham Mix Café

  1. https://www.ft.com/content/cf153651-09f3-4cf5-a012-e4f823b648be
  2. According to CEO of catering supplier Reynolds (FT, March 2020)
  3. https://www.statista.com/statistics/911294/number-of-food-drink-venues-in-great-britain-uk-by-type/

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