By Elle Woods-Marshall and Imogen Higgins
Earlier this year we explored the role food banks play in helping individuals across the UK by speaking to Alex Abbs, the President of Beyond Food.
The reliance on food banks in the UK has increased dramatically, rising in the North East by 75% in the last five years, according to The Trussell Trust. Locally, the rate of usage at Hartlepool food bank has increased from 1-2 times a year to 15-20.
There is a clear issue with food insecurity in both the UK overall and our local area which should prompt us to question what we can do to support these food banks to make a change.
A group of students dreamt up and executed their own solution to help food banks whilst also protecting the planet. We interviewed two members of the team, Josh Cash and Elisabetta Sakiotis, to find out more.
Josh identified a disconnect between the way we handle food waste and approach food insecurity. He was startled by the amount of food thrown away every week because of how products look, rather than how useful or delicious they could be.
Their own solution is to help both communities and the planet
In the UK 20-40% of fruit and vegetables are discarded before reaching supermarkets due to aesthetics; and Harvest UK states that in 2012 more than 7 million people in the UK could have had their five-a-day without avoidable wastage.
Josh wanted to start a project that worked towards a solution to end the staggering amount of food wastage that happens beneath our noses. He joined together with a group of other students to form The Ugly Fruit Group. Another member of the group, Elisabetta, harnessed her experience researching and interacting with social enterprises on her year abroad in Paris to help set up the project.
All of the team members have a foundational interest in trying to improve people’s lives whilst making a positive environmental change. Alongside this, their society and events aim to raise awareness of these often overlooked issues amongst the local and student community.
The Ugly Fruit Group is an ENACTUS project. ENACTUS is a global non-profit organisation of students, academics and business leaders that supports entrepreneurial initiatives which seek to create social impact.
Currently, there are five students in the team. As a Geography student, Josh had a sense of world awareness both enviornmentally and socially, and knew that these were isues he wanted to tackle. Their primary concept activity centres around supplying the local food banks food shortage with the wastage of fruit and vegetables from supermarkets. They teamed up with Hartlepool food bank and sourced fruit and vegetables from Tesco, just outside Durham and an Aldi supermarket just outside Gilesgate. Additionally, they connected with the university kitchen supplier in order to source produce that is wasted and not given to university kitchens.
This initiative is proactive and helpful, especially because a common issue in many food banks is the lack of fresh produce sourced in donations.
Many people donate long life products which, while they are brilliant and useful for lots of reasons, means that there is a nutritional gap deficiency in the food available to service users. By donating fresh fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted the project tackles two issues simultaneously. In this way, the project is multifaceted because it tackles both social and environmental issues.
Another central project of The Ugly Fruit Group makes use of the remainder of the produce that has not been donated to the food bank. Used as ingredients for healthy snacks that are cooked by the Ugly Fruit Exec themselves, the food does not go to waste.
These snacks, ranging from banana bread and carrot cake to apple crisps and dehydrated mushrooms, are created based on the produce received from the supermarkets. The idea is that delicious and affordable snacks and products can be made from wastage we would normally assume is unusable. In order to work towards a Zero Waste policy, excess waste, such as tangerine peel and apple cores, are given to local allotments.
Trying to improve people’s lives whilst making positive environmental impact
All snacks are transported in cardboard boxes or paper bags; the group ticks all the boxes when considering how to make their project ethically and environmentally sustainable. The snacks are then sold to students and locals at a stall located on the university campus.
The first stall was held in January and the Exec were delighted at the support displayed from students, keen to get involved, as well as the wider community in Durham. A passerby remarked that Durham County ‘needs more and more things like this’.
Looking forward to the future, The Ugly Fruit Group plan to make these stalls fort-nightly, and later on weekly. From this increase in frequency they seek to raise enough money to be able to support employing foobank users in the hope of enhancing employability, teaching skills and providing an income .
Therefore, the snacks sold on the stalls promote healthy eating amongst students and locals as well as providing money to support the community and create social change. Unfortunately, the Exec explained that they have faced difficulties with the Student Union when gaining permission to set up regular stalls. The SU have argued that the stalls will create competition with the
Yet, the snacks sold by the Ugly Fruit Group are very different to those sold in the SU and all proceeds go towards an admirable cause which supports our local community, an aim that the SU should surely support. Moreover, the group stated that Durham University itself has consistently missed food waste targets set in their sustainability goals, highlighting that their overall approach needs to be reassessed. Clearly there is some room for investigation and pressure.
The long-term vision of the group involves holding regular stalls around the university which will produce enough profit to set up cooking workshops by the end of term. Ideally, the Exec will assume solely managerial roles and the people that use the food bank will create the snacks that are sold on the stalls, enhancing their cooking and social skills.
The Ugly Fruit Group is eager for more students to get involved to help store produce, cook snacks, and run stalls. Applications for new members of the team are open until the 13th of March and information can be found on their social media. Alternatively, follow them on Facebook or Instagram and go to their stalls. You can support both the environment and local people in this student-led enterprise.
Image: The Ugly Fruit Group