The corona crisis has had untold impact, both on a human and systems level; and in doing so it has starkly laid out what really, truly matters. In the domain of food, I think three powerful lessons have been brought to the fore.
The first is that food itself matters
That might sound like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but for a really important demographic – those in power – the coronavirus has hammered this home for the first time. Confronting the reality of empty supermarket shelves was a sobering experience, and the impacts of this will reverberate I believe for many years.
Specifically, we’re likely to see much more focus on – and investment in – the resiliency of our national food systems. According to analysis by HSBC, 80% of British food is imported; combine this with our highly complex just-in-time supply chains incorporating hundreds of thousands of SKUs, and it becomes clear that this is going to have to change if we want a resilient food system that can survive in a crisis.
On a more human level, research by campaign group Hubbub has shown that attitudes to food have also changed dramatically, with over half of people now saying that they are valuing food more, and 48% of people saying they’re wasting less food. Despite the horrific human hardships that have been endured, the fact that we are now valuing food much more than we ever have, can only be a good thing for our society, environment and food sector.
The second lesson is that food needs to be accessible
Availability alone isn’t enough. Whilst sadly food poverty in the UK is nothing new – with 8.4 million people living in food poverty each year – what the crisis has done is to not only exacerbate this problem, but also drive a far higher collective awareness of it.
Research by the Food Foundation found that three weeks into the lockdown, 1.5 million people said that they hadn’t eaten for a whole day, and three million people are living in households where someone has been forced to skip a meal.
Trends that would have taken decades to unfold have taken place in just weeks
The painful irony of this is that on the other hand, closing businesses were awash with food that was going to go to waste. Thankfully charities sprang into action to rescue as much as they could.
At OLIO we launched a Covid-19 service whereby our local Food Waste Heroes collected this surplus food and redistributed it to the local community, which resulted in double the volumes of food being redistributed in the past 30 days.
It’s absolutely unconscionable that in this day and age that we have so many going hungry in a supposedly developed country, and I’m hopeful that our experiences through the corona crisis will have given us the national resolve to address this.
The third lesson is the importance of community in our food eco-system
Whilst charities have been hit by the double whammy of decreased supplies and a lack of volunteers, we’ve seen the community respond to try and fill the gap.
From Mutual Aid groups springing up across the country to multiple initiatives to help feed the NHS, the power of community has never been more prevalent. At OLIO we’ve seen a 30% increase in the numbers of neighbours sharing food with one another, with thousands taking part in our #Cook4Kids and #Cook4Carers campaigns to ensure that no child or front line worker should go hungry. For too long, the power of community in ensuring we have a robust and thriving food system has been overlooked.
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all though, is that this crisis has shown us just what we can achieve when we put our minds to it. Trends that would have taken years, or even decades to unfold have taken place in just weeks and months. And so as we look to the future, it’s up to us to seize this momentum and ensure we use our renewed sense of agency to build a food system that’s much more sustainable, and equitable for all.
OLIO is an app tackling the problem of food waste in the home and local community. It does this by connecting users who have surplus food with their neighbours living nearby who would like it.
Launched in 2016, 2 million people have joined the app and they’ve together shared over 4 million portions of food. This has had the environmental impact of taking 12 million car miles off the road, and has saved over half a billion litres of water.
OLIO is being used throughout the UK, and has also been successfully used to share food in a total of 49 countries.
How to use OLIO
- To share, users simply snap a picture of their items and add them to OLIO
- Neighbours then receive customised alerts and can request anything that takes their fancy. Pickup is arranged via private messaging within the app, and often takes place the same day
- 50 per cent of all food listings added to the app are requested in less than 1 hour!80 per cent of listings are food. However, OLIO also has a non-food section where items such as toiletries, cosmetics, kitchen equipment, books, toys and clothes are also shared
- All listings are added to OLIO are given away for free
- OLIO is available as a mobile app (iOS and Android) and a web app on olioex.com