Landfill or Lunchbox, should we really be eating this rubbish?
On the 10th of January 2019 the BBC ran a story entitled Hungry children “eating from bins” in Morecambe, and within it Collingwood, a Head Teacher, reports one in ten of the pupils at her school come from families using foodbanks (BBC para. 3).
Collingwood is quoted as saying:
When children are food deprived it alters their behaviour and they do become quite food obsessed, so we have some children who will be stealing fruit cores from the bins, …We have children who have nothing in their lunch boxes and children who are just fixated upon food. (BBC, para. 8,9)
Collingwood also states that parents have been "arriving at school literally bursting into tears telling me they have no means of feeding their children" (BBC, para.10) and "Families are coming in telling me they are routinely loaning food to each other, my day-to-day experience is telling me this is a growing problem" (BBC, para.12).
Not only does this story highlight the widespread nature of food insecurity, the desperation it can create, it also plays upon the subjective assertion that ‘eating from bins’ is something to be avoided. It is this final assertion that this paper challenges, and by doing so, re-frames the paradigm to offer frugal-innovation solutions to some issues associated with food insecurity in schools.
With WRAP asserting that 10 million tonnes of surplus food are wasted (WRAP, 2017, p.1), resulting in a third of all perfectly edible food produced being destined for landfill, then it is possible to conclude that eating it before it became landfill may provide hungry people with perfectly edible food. WRAP also note that 710,000 tonnes of food surplus are being redistributed (WRAP, 2017. p.1), and this blog focuses on some elements of this redistribution by exploring how Fuel for School (F4S) a Leeds based Community Investment Company (CIC), developed a more humanitarian approach to food distribution, challenging the current economic models that control it.
F4S utilises surplus food, donated by supermarkets, and redistributes it to a range of primary schools in the region. In the following sections of this paper the F4S Education Coordinator (EC) tells the story of the CIC’s development and a Deputy Head Teacher (DHT) from Bradford reports on its impact.
F4S provides weekly deliveries of surplus food and disseminates an education pack that focuses on food waste, nutrition, and sustainable development, based around the United Nations Association (UNA) Sustainable Development Goals 2015 - 2030 (UNA, 2018).
An empty stomach affects concentration, energy levels, attentiveness and emotional wellbeing. Prolonged exposure to lack of food ultimately results in children working below age-related expectations. Traditional models of interventions, designed to support children “catch up” and “close the gap”, are ineffective if the targeted children continue to present each day at school with empty stomachs. (Fuel for School, 2018, para.3)
In a bid to address they developed three key objectives:
- Remove hunger as a barrier to learning
- Reduce the quantity of perfectly edible food that goes to waste
Educate communities to make responsible choices about food for a sustainable future (Fuel for School, 2018, p.1)
F4S strategy is to develop a structure of food redistribution to as many primary schools as possible. Early in 2016, they invited people from schools across the region, EC says, “All we were really selling was an idea, a vision, but people could see that it made sense.” By the end of 2017, 62 local schools were being provided with weekly deliveries of intercepted food. An indicative comment from one school suggests that the creative utilisation of food included “market stalls for the school community, ingredients for cooking activities, rewards for children, supplement breakfast clubs and even chicken food for a school farm” (Richmond Hill Academy, 2018, para.6).
However, the food redistribution represents only one element of the Service Level Agreement, a more significant element of the provision is using the surplus produce to facilitate education and achieve sustainable development. The EC produces and delivers a series of learning activities that embody the ethos of F4S and the United Nations Association (UNA) Sustainable Development Goals 2015 - 2030 (UNA, 2018). EC says:
We’ve invested heavily in the educational element of the programme. By working with children from the age of three, we stand a chance of improving the life outcomes for these children and the next generation. By feeding them, and educating them, we initially improve the outcomes for the most vulnerable children, but ultimately improve the outcomes for all.
As part of their Service Level Agreement, F4S provides focused School Assemblies addressing the issues of food surplus, nutrition and sustainability. By providing the focus of the assemblies F4S has facilitated the opportunity to raise the awareness of over 15,000 children and harness the schools’ commitment to advocating suitable nutrition for their pupils. The initial issues F4S seek to disseminate are that:
- Food is produced globally
- A large proportion of all food produced is wasted
- Some children still go hungry
- There is enough food to feed everybody
- A healthy diet is essential to well-being
- The Eatwell Guide (NHS 2017) (Temple Clothier & Matheson, 2017, p.5)
The EC views this provision as the start of an ongoing conversation around the reasons why food is wasted, and what children can do to prevent it. To continue that conversation, and deepen the learning, F4S have run a range of educational activities that include staff meetings, assemblies, cooking classes, parent groups, and coffee mornings. Whilst some events are ‘one-off’ and delivered at the specific request of the school, others are more embedded in the F4S delivery plan and educational extension pack. Working with Leeds Beckett University, the EC co-created an Education Pack covering all the learning outcomes identified in the National Curriculum (2016) for KS1 and 2 Cooking and Nutrition whilst providing “a complete set of lesson plans, and all the supporting documentation needed to facilitate effective learning” (Temple Clothier & Matheson. 2017, p.5). This provides schools with the resources to cover issues such as food expiration dates, best before dates, food miles, and the Pay-As-You-Feel concept. EC says:
Without playing the blame game, without blaming any section of the supply chain, we explore when, and how food is wasted. We encourage children to think about food waste in terms of their own choices, at home, in school dinner halls, and everything they can directly control. By encouraging children to think about their own actions we are immediately reducing the amount of perfectly edible food wasted.
Whilst the surplus food, supplied by F4S, can be used to directly remove hunger as a barrier to learning, how the schools’ choses to use the produce, and engage with the range of educational activities varies. EC says:
We provided the food, and then it’s the schools themselves that really make the magic happen. It’s dependent on their needs, and the needs of their children, we engage with both affluent and vulnerable communities. For some schools, the main aim is to ensure that children are having adequate nutrition; for others it’s just to regulate the timing of the nutrition i.e. ensuring that all children have had breakfast so that they can maximise learning throughout the morning classes. Other schools use the Market Stall as a focus for their Social Enterprise activities, or as a way of developing community engagement. However they use our resources, we are confident that it goes some way to reducing social deprivation and provide meaningful learning opportunities for all.
Whilst recognising the short-term value of redistribution, EC emphasises the need for a longer, and more ambitious, strategy to reduce the amount of food waste:
We’re really in phase one, and it needs a longer process and strategy. We don’t want to be redistributing for ever. We want to work with schools, and suppliers, to reduce the amount of waste created. This is really where the education comes in and extends beyond the Market Stalls and cafes.
The amount of food currently being redistributed is significant. EC revealed that in the first full academic year the project diverted just under 2,000 tonnes of food into 62 primary schools in Leeds and Bradford. Although this is a tiny proportion of the 10 million tonnes of surplus food wasted (WRAP, 2017, p.1), and the 710,000 tonnes of food surplus being redistributed (WRAP, 2017. p.1) EC is positive about its impact, “It’s incredible, not just because it’s put all this food into someone’s belly, but also because it’s stopped it going into landfill.” He continues:
These 2,000 tonnes of redistributed food are part of something much bigger, because it only represents about a third of the food we have intercepted in total. We’ve intercepted closer to 7,000 tonnes of perfectly edible food destined for landfill and diverted into people’s bellies. A huge part of that redistribution was through the school programme.
We’ve a plan, in terms of sustainably nutrition in schools. We want to make changes, and ensure our communities and children have access fresh food. We want to see less purchased food being wasted. We collect data, we have a database, and we feed back to our suppliers, to help them reduce waste, because that’s what we really want to do.
It appears that this approach, and values, resonate with schools they serve. DHT’s school took out a Service Level Agreement with F4S in 2017 and he reports:
The big thing for us, as a school, is sustainability. Now, we’ve found an organisation that can supply us directly with surplus food, and have paid the Service Level agreement for a year, we know that it’s working well, and can’t have a year without it. We’ve set up a system, and we need to make sure it keeps on going.
To maintain this relationship, without taking any funds from the school budget, DHT outlines how the school finance the service level agreement:
It’s important that the school can cover the costs to maintain the Service Level Agreement, without taking it from the school budget. Staff organised a sponsored walk, and one of our colleagues ran the Brighton Marathon, and we raised money that way. We covered approximately £1,800 of the costs by fund raising, the rest came from the money made on the market stall last year, and from the funds we would have otherwise spent on the breakfast club. The breakfast club money would have helped a small percentage of the pupils, and this way we feed the whole school instead.
What is significant about this, is the apparent staff engagement, and support for the venture. The practitioners volunteer to raise the finances to keep the system going. The intercepted food supplements the children’s diets, and the staff activities supplement the school budget. Here it would seem that some practitioners are redefining their roles to fully engage with the “way of being” alluded to by EC and creating new ways of identifying effective interventions to enhance food security and present “diversified approach[s] that brings together many critical issues ... with a focus on creating a just food system” (Levkoe, 2006, p.89). Whilst these practitioners may not identify themselves as being part of the Food Justice Movement (Levkoe, 2006) their actions would suggest that they are developing “strong civic virtues and critical perspectives along with the necessary experience for shaping policy makers decisions” (Levkoe, 2006, p.90). Their actions, and stories are presented in this case study, as tertiary literature does not always reveal the lived experiences of practitioners operating in a shifting landscape. It is hoped this case study will assist the reader to contextualise the macro-level policies, and the micro-level practices which combine to shape experiences within the current education system.
BBC News (2019) Hungry Children ‘eating from school bins’ in Morecombe. Available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-46827360. Accessed: 11.1.2019
Fuel for School (2018). Available at: fuelforschool.info/about-us/ Accessed:14.12.2018
Levkoe, C. Z. (2006). Learning democracy through food justice movements. Agriculture and Human Values, 23(1), 89-98.
Richmond Hill Academy (2018). richmondhillleeds.co.uk/fuel-for-school/ Accessed 14.12.2018
Temple Clothier, A & Matheson, D. (2017) Using co-creation as a pedagogic method for the professional development of students undertaking a BA (Hons) in Education Studies, Journal of Further and Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2017.1409344
United Nations (2018) Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Available at: sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld Accessed 14.12.2018
WRAP (2017) Estimates of Food Surplus and Waste Arisings in the UK Available at: wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Estimates_%20in_the_UK_Jan17.pdf Accessed 19.11.18
Senior Lecturer and Teacher Fellow, with Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy Anne specialises in the English Education and Higher Education Systems.