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Shane Holland, Executive Chairman of Slow Food in the UK, discusses his interest in food and farming, access to food, and our issues around food quality.

by Jessica Fishburn/20th-June-2020

A lot of food issues stem from cost, and a lot of that comes from how we waste food. Food can be wasted directly in the field, with up to a third or more of a crop being ploughed back into the fields, all the way through to retail and consumer waste. At GreenKode, we are striving to help provide a solution to manage and reduce food waste in the Hospitality and Food Service sector.

Shane agrees that these kinds of systems should be mandatory in all businesses moving forward. Growing up in West Cornwall, he saw firsthand the impacts of an unsustainable food supply chain. Moreover, he highlights how food is far more than something that just fills us up.

“When we take our knife and fork and eat our dinner, not only are we eating calories, we are also affecting what our landscape looks like, we are affecting rural jobs, we are affecting where there is a local post office or school or not.”

 

Slow Food is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. It was founded in 1989 in Italy.

 

Shane Holland, Executive Chairman of Slow Food in the UK,

Shane explains that they work on a bespoke basis with many restaurants to help them find and use producers close to the source. In addition, they work with consumers to educate us on why food issues are important, and give them ideas on how to reduce their waste.

For example, recently Slow Food Birmingham helped a potato farmer from going under. One of the dirty secrets of Coronavirus is that we don’t buy vegetables in the same quantity at home as we do when we eat out.

“If you go to a restaurant we tend to have more vegetables on our plate than we would at home. With the Coronavirus closing all the restaurants there are huge surpluses of vegetables at the moment.”

 Suddenly, this farmer had his contract cancelled. Slow Food committed to buying all of the potatoes and at £1 per kilo, which was above the market price, so that the farmer could maintain an income and plant further potatoes. Some potatoes were then sold whilst most were donated to those living in poverty, to food banks and community kitchens. Before giving them to community kitchens, they peeled the potatoes that had eyes or looked a bit battered so that food waste was reduced to an absolute zero.

“That is the kind of hands on thing that Slow Food are doing, alongside food education, community cooking and all the other things we have talked about.”

Shane has also been involved with other organisations tackling food waste issues. Previously he chaired the organisation Plan Zheroes, a tech food waste charity who supply the tech which moves fresh food from stores like bakeries and greengrocers and sends that to people in need at food banks and others.

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“If you are working with supermarket distribution centres and it suddenly becomes very cold and wet where they have 20 palettes of strawberries, then it’s actually quite easy to move that to food banks because they are in palettes, you can out them in the back of a lorry and organisations like Fareshare – who do the most amazing work – are really geared up to do the logistics.”

 

Importantly, where most of the waste comes from is actually in small scale environments. At the end of the day a shop may have 3 or 4 boxes of strawberries which haven’t been sold, a few loaves of bread at a particular bakery, and of course the unused items in our own homes and in commercial kitchens. At any given time this waste is fairly moderate, but on aggregate it is significant.

With the pandemic exposing the fragility of our food systems, are we at a tipping point for real change toward a more sustainable and resilient system?

Shane agreed that the food system is incredibly fragile with most of us not realising just how fragile it is. We have just in time delivery systems for most of our food, and just in time systems for our own food stock as well. If you go back even 40/50 years most had pantries and larders and we all kept stocks of food at home.

“Most of us don’t do that now. If you think about what you’ve got at home in your cupboards, you may have some stock cubes, some herbs and spices but that will be about it.”

 

We have gone to this ‘just in time’ model at all times. When we have shocks in the food system, more often than a global pandemic, it can be climate changes or lorry strikes in France for example, it instantly creates a real issue. Shane believes we are becoming more aware of this as these shocks become more severe with higher pressure to address the issues.

However, in the UK we tend to buy our way out of these issues. Shane explains that we are reasonably fortunate enough as a fairly rich country, and even those of us that are on very low incomes, we have a lot more wealth than people in developing countries.

“When we had shortages of products back in March, the supermarkets went on a massive shopping spree and started buying overseas to plug those gaps.”

We are insulated, to an extent, with the knowledge that products are there if we need them; we can just buy our way out. This is not sustainable. What we are doing is exporting our own issues because we are buying our food from overseas over and above what we normally do that means someone else is not eating that food.

 

Slow food Organization explained and campaigns they have run in the UK a conference meet up rally heldin Italy.

 

At the individual level, what can we do about this?

 

  1. Buy direct or as closely to the source as possible.

Up to a third of food does not even make it to the supermarket due to not meeting their standards, so if we are able to buy direct we can help stop that waste.”

Depending on where you live, you can find local markets, honesty boxes at nearby farms, farm shops, and so on, that will have a dramatic reduction on food waste at the source.

 

2. It may sound obvious, but make sure you eat everything you buy.

Shane recommends that we recycle our dishes. For example, if you eat meat and cook a roast chicken, you could boil up the carcass and make a soup; creating another meal and saving a couple of pounds you would have spent on buying a soup at the supermarket the next day.

“We need to be much more frugal, (1) for our own pockets so we can eat better food and (2) for our farmers because they’re not being paid an adequate amount.”

 

The way to get the price of food down is to stop wasting it so much and to buy it direct from source.

 

Shane leaves this as a final message:

 

“Enjoy food. I think sometimes we get a bit scared about food. We should be enjoying it and being adventurous with our food.

 But largely, we should be eating from our own shores. This doesn’t mean we give up oranges, it doesn’t mean in winter we only eat swede and parsnip. It doesn’t mean we have to give up coffee.

 We have fallen in love with food from other cultures which is a great thing, we all enjoy doing that, but if we are to be truly sustainable then actually our diets need to be more rooted to what we are producing here.”

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If you would like to find out more about Slow Food and the work they do, you can head to their website. If you are interested in getting involved in their initiatives, you can get in touch with Shane at s.holland@slowfood.org.uk

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