About 15 million tonnes of the food we grow in the UK ends up in landfill and anaerobic digestors, or – less often – being converted into animal feed.
It was this uncomfortable truth that prompted my friend Michael Minch-Dixon and me to co-found Snact last year, turning some of that surplus into healthy fruit jerky snacks – or ‘snacts’. In our rented Hackney kitchen, we make these by blending and then dehydrating ingredients such as apples, bananas and blueberries sourced from London’s wholesale markets. We then package and sell the snacts at markets and in a couple of independent shops in Brixton, South London.
So why are we wasting so much food in the first place? Some of the answers are simple, such as wonky produce not meeting strict supermarket standards, or choosy consumer habits meaning slightly spotty bananas are thrown away. But it’s also because the global food system is complex and requires produce to go through the supply chain at a particular stage of ripeness to guarantee retailers a sellable product. It doesn’t have to be this way. If a supermarket discards kilos of carrots because they’re past their sell-by date, they’re not waste, they’re ingredients ready for soup kitchens and community centres. If apples get rejected because they’re not the right size, they’re not waste, they’re ingredients ready for turning into products like Rejuce juices or Chutney for Change. And when food manufacturers are left with by-products that are still edible and nourishing, they too are a resource. That’s why we’re looking into using fruit pulp left over from the juicing process as an ingredient in future Snact products.
Innovative uses of food waste aside, the past nine months have taught us a lot about the social side to the food waste story. Our next step is to work with some of the five million people in the UK affected by food poverty to help us make and sell our snacts. Ultimately, our vision is to create a network of stalls in high traffic areas where our staff can sell snacts directly, keeping the margins that would traditionally go to retailers and distributors. The issue of food waste is a tricky one. However, if we collectively put more effort into getting apparently unusable food to where it can be used creatively, we can stop talking about food waste. Instead, we’ll simply call it what it really is: food.
This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of Transition Free Press.