In light of recent investigations into the Union’s food policy, The Gryphon examines what appears to be a haphazard approach to preventing waste and what goes on behind the scenes in some of its busiest catering outlets.
The Easter holidays may be a break for some, but the Union has wasted little time in committing one of today’s most needless injustices: food waste. Food waste is a huge issue, with UK households throwing away 7 million tonnes of food each year. This waste is happening alongside over 1 million people in Britain being forced into using food banks in 2014-15. With this figure steadily climbing, the inequality in our system being exposed is troubling to say the least. Last week it became clear that food waste is something Leeds University Union is also very much guilty of. Cracks have begun to materialise in union policy, and those that work in the food outlets in LUU have had enough. The catering outlets in the Union comprise of Terrace, Old Bar, Salad Box, Hidden Café, and Balcony, and with plans for further development, the deteriorating situation needs to be addressed.
Attention was drawn to the issue just one week into the Easter break. A Salad Box employee revealed how she was instructed to throw away three bags brimming with fresh food. As it was Good Friday and there had been few customers, the waste levels were unusually high. The same went for the other union outlets, with Terrace staff feeling similar frustrations at having to dispose of a substantial amount of fresh food. LUU has since come forward and stated that the appropriate charities were not available to come and pick up the food, as it was Good Friday. Arguably, this is not an excuse for the volume of food that was thrown away – LUU could, and should, have done more to prepare for this inevitable situation. Their lack of action demonstrates a disconnection between their policies and the reality of what goes on in the union.
The Salad Box employee voiced her concerns, ‘on a basic staff level I was upset, it was patronising and made me feel like I wasn’t trusted as a member of staff, as those superior to me didn’t even trust me to have that bit of food’. By not allowing the food to be taken home by staff, LUU made what could have been a simple loss of profit into what was quite frankly a disgraceful amount of waste.
Moreover, it was not just what appeared to be a general lack of trust, as the employee concerned went on to explain, ‘in terms of current news on food banks and the large scale homelessness that persists in Leeds, it is horrendous, especially considering LUU are meant to be a charity’.
Food waste is a global issue that needs to start being taken seriously by the union. If the available charities could not pick up the waste, why were staff not asked if they would do it themselves? In an open letter written by some of the staff at Terrace, many expressed how they would have been more than happy to take the food waste themselves. With the initiative for preventing food waste seemingly coming from the bottom up, we have gauged that many LUU workers feel there is a lack of coordination from the top, and an inability to enforce what the Union underlines as their strict approach to preventing food waste.
In attempts to clarify exactly what LUU policy is, The Gryphon spoke to a Union spokesperson:
“We work with local homeless charities to distribute any un-eaten sandwiches and food from our outlets. We are constantly striving to reduce our food waste and recycle further and try to make food to order as much as possible so as to further reduce food wastage. We have received the Gold Standard Green Impact for our recycling and sustainability and continue to remain at this standard. Any suggestions for further food wastage or recycling schemes are always welcome from all our student members.”
According to the British Medical Journal, UK households threw away 4.2 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten in 2012 and there is a worrying level of inaction at a higher political level. In September 2015 the, Food Waste (Reduction) Bill was proposed in Parliament. It comprised two objectives: to reduce food waste by individuals and public bodies, and for businesses to enter into formal agreements with food redistribution organisations. The bill was due to have its second reading on the 4th of March, but it was placed too far down on the agenda to be debated. However, food waste is still an issue high on the public’s agenda.
In light of this, local initiatives are having a huge impact. The Real Junk Food Project was founded in Leeds and has had great success. In its first 10 months of opening, it fed 10,000 people on 20 tonnes of unwanted food, raising over £30,000. The idea has spread with similar schemes popping up across the country. ‘Save Our Sandwiches’ at Sheffield University is one such example, since January 2015 they have saved nearly two tonnes of waste from Sheffield’s Union simply by collecting any leftover food at the end of the day and donating it to local charities. LUU itself has schemes such as ‘Leave Leeds Tidy’, which has been running for six years and helped redirect 85 tonnes of waste from landfill. All these successes show food waste can be stopped. But movements such as this can only work with the co-operation of large-scale institutions.
When considering the many other injustices that are happening globally, food waste is not only unnecessary, but also easily avoidable. With it appearing to fall low on the Governmental agenda, the responsibility falls into the hands of large institutions to set the standard. LUU’s lack of uniformity over food, and general waste policy, means that those who could appreciate three bags of fresh food, such as the homeless in Leeds or even hungry students, are denied of this. To put it simply, how can the Union be a charity that aims to ‘ensures the community is a place that everyone can enjoy’ when it is missing these chances to contribute? This may be one instance of large scale food waste, but it has exposed some fundamental problems within the Union, showing that things have got to change and union policy is a good place to start.
Naomi de Souza & Claire Wilsher
Images: Alistair Scot, The Independent