Food waste: Fuel for the fight against food poverty?

Published by Sorcha McManigan on

September 25th, 2017

Taking center stage at last weekend’s Vegfest, Virginia O’Gara wowed the audience at Ireland’s annual vegan festival with her hands-on Kimchi demo, explaining all the wonders of the world of fermentation.

The co-owner of My Goodness, an ethical, raw vegan company, Virginia explained in detail how the Korean staple has health benefits such as stimulating good gut bacteria, is rich in vitamins, and has a near never-ending shelve life.

However, Virginia’s display wasn’t just about giving the audience a niche idea to try on a quiet weekend with some old cabbage. It was about demonstrating how easy it is to reduce our food waste as both food poverty and homelessness take hold in Ireland.

One in eight people experiencing food poverty in Ireland, while we simultaneously waste 1.1 million tonnes of food. It is estimated that €700 worth of food is thrown out by each Irish household every year.

With her cutlery roots developed through the social organisation Food Not Bombs in her native Dallas, Texas, Virginia has a strong interest in addressing the issue of food poverty.

The organisation aims to combat food waste and hunger by creating meals for the homeless using food waste. They turn donated, unsellable food into delicious vegan or vegetarian meals that can cater to any dietary requirements and can feed up to 200 people a week.

According to Virginia, a spark of creativity and some inspiration can turn boxes of unwanted fruit and veg into appetising meals for those who need it.

She stresses that the use of food waste to address social issues is critical in “drawing attention to the imbalance of resource distribution in the world”.

Taking to the streets and working on ground level was key to the success of Food Not Bombs in the US, with a similar movement gathering pace in Ireland.

A meal being served by Food Not Bombs in Sarasota, Florida Photo: Delldot

High Demand for food donations

 Two separate groups exist in Ireland, a vegan (Food Not Bombs is an adherently vegan movement) and a non-vegan movement.

Bernie Wright has been involved in the vegan movement for the last two years and provides food donations at the old Central Bank on Dame Street once a month.

Demand is high both for food donations and volunteers, according to Bernie as the group feed between 100 and 250 people every month.

“We often find the food gone in 30 minutes,” she adds. “We don’t count the people who come to our table, but it includes children and non-Irish homeless.”

According to Focus Ireland, one in three in emergency accommodation are children, a statistic that Bernie says underlies the need for more support across Ireland, especially as we creep toward the winter months.

“Winter increases the misery on the streets and more clothes and sleeping bags are urgently needed,” she says, as well as further food donations.

“The issue is close to my heart as the people we meet are so nice and really appreciate our humble efforts, we wish we could do more.”

Fresh Food In Garbage Can To Illustrate Waste Photo: USDA

Fresh Food In Garbage Can to Illustrate Waste Photo: USDA

Food Waste App

Although not working directly on the ground, Foodcloud is also playing a role in tackling food waste, saving 8,300 tonnes of food – roughly 18 million meals – from landfills in the last five years.

The company works closely with supermarkets, who use a scanner or the Foodcloud app to alert charities to food that would otherwise go to waste. The charities will then pick up the food and distribute it to those most in need.

As the homelessness crisis continues and with so much unnecessary food waste, it’s about time Ireland rethinks the way we consume food.

The phenomenal work organisations and volunteers are doing with donated food could reduce not only food waste but also food poverty in Ireland.

If you’re interested in how you can get involved in learning how to reduce your waste, click here.

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Sorcha McManigan

Sorcha has a Degree Honours in Journalism with French from DIT and is passionate about social issues and radio production