As head of FareShare, Lindsay Boswell provides a million meals a month to charities. He talks with Flavour about fighting food waste, the throwaway society and why he’s got the best job in the world.
Lindsay Boswell is the CEO of food charity FareShare, an organisation which rescues good food that would otherwise be wasted and redirects it towards frontline charities who then feed millions of vulnerable people.
I have never wanted a job more in my life. I’ve always been fascinated by, and angry about, wasted food – I’ve got two teenage witnesses who’ll testify to that. I was working for the Institute of Fundraising and was asked to chair a conference about how charities and businesses can work in partnership. FareShare was one of the examples, for their work with Sainsbury’s. That evening I told my wife, “I’ve seen the next organisation I want to work for.” The following week the CEO job came up, I was offered it, and I’ve now landed the best job in the world.
I’ve become even more bullish about waste since starting this job in 2010. I freeze more and put a lot more in the fridge than I used to. Things like a sliced loaf that’s only going to be toasted automatically lives in the fridge. We’ve abolished the fruit bowl. All our apples live in the fridge because they keep for longer there.
We don’t value food enough; it has become far too cheap a commodity. It’s interesting to see what percentage of income is spent on food in Italy and in France in comparison to the UK – it’s dramatically higher. The French love their food by definition of being French, yet we don’t have any of that in our culture. I bet a lot of this year’s university freshers don’t even own a pan, but what can you expect if microwaving something is considered cooking and our fridges have freezer compartments too small to store a sausage?
A lot of people in this country get angry about food being wasted, and lots of us were raised being told that there were people who didn’t have food and so we ought to eat everything on our plates. My parents were teenagers during the war and passed on that value to me. But now we’re much more of a chuck-it-away-and-buy-another culture.
Obviously the best way to reduce waste is not to create it in the first place. We take huge pride that there’s not a single food business we work with, from big brands to artisan manufacturers, whose waste we’ve not helped to reduce. I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t want to do the right thing with the surpluses.
There’s 400,000 tonnes of surplus food in this country which could be diverted to charities who are helping vulnerable people, and we get about two per cent of it. Even if we helped businesses halve their waste, there would still be 200,000 tonnes wasted, which is a ridiculous quantity of food.
The scale masks the waste. We might see pallets and pallets of tomatoes, for example, and wonder at the waste, but the guy who’s sending them to us is dealing in warehouses and warehouses of tomatoes. For example, all the different cartons of fruit juice in this country all come through the one factory. We approached them because the charities we were supplying were asking for fruit juice because of its high nutritional value. They insisted they had no waste but, when pressed, they told us their waste was 0.02%. The percentage was so small they didn’t see that that waste was the equivalent of 300,000 servings of fruit juice. As soon as they realised the good that could be done with that, they covered the costs of getting it to our depots. It actually costs them more than draining and recycling the cartons, but now they get to say they actually have zero waste.
We currently support over 1,300 charities and we save them around £16 million in food costs. We’re part of the funding fabric of local charities, sourcing food sustainably so that more vulnerable people can be fed and charities can save some of their money. To cover the whole of the UK we need 26 depots; at the moment we have 20. So many charities rely on us that we can’t afford to go bust, so we take our role very seriously. We’ve got new centres opening in the Thames Valley, Southampton and Cornwall. Each regional depot covers a large area, so we really need volunteers – particularly drivers. But success for us isn’t lots of depots; success is to give away more food, and to that I say bring it on.
The food treats a symptom: hunger. We provide one million meals a month to charities who are dealing with the cause of hunger, whether that’s domestic violence, gambling, drug and alcohol dependency, isolation, loneliness, fear of going outside. These charities use a meal as the first stepping stone to point people in the right direction. At one drug rehabilitation charity, the word went out that there was steak. Lots of people who had never accessed the service before came for the steak and are now on the first stages of rehabilitation. The quality of the food did that.
We ask everyone on Monday to bring in leftovers for a communal surplus lunch. We always have a moment where we think it might be a bit meagre and then, before you know it, it’s like a picnic in a 1950s Hollywood movie. There’s always more than enough for everyone.
To find out more about FareShare, or to volunteer, visit http://www.fareshare.org.uk/
Read this article as it originally appeared on FlavourFirst