Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Guarding the Garbage

Now that I have successfully completed my Undergraduate Degree, I can finally turn some attention to some of the things I've recently been ignoring, such as this blog. 

To end the overly long hiatus, I am going to discuss something that I overheard in my local co-op, and how I have chosen to respond to it. I hope, in reading this, some of you might think about doing something similar. 

Yesterday, when I visited my local co-op on Lovelace Road, Norwich, I overheard a managerial figure, loudly boasting to his employees. As I walked past the group, I overheard this manager boast about how he had heroically protected the bins of his co-op from bin-divers who were trying to obtain the food he was intending to throw away. Naturally, his employees commended him on his efforts.

In all honesty, I was rather disgusted to overhear such a flagrant display of ignorant behaviour. That the manager of a co-operative store, a chain which has gained a lot of support for their ethical practices (indeed one could argue that their brand image depends upon it), could so openly declare his disdain for the inconvenience of dealing with what he unreservedly considers to be "theft", was rather sickening. 

Firstly, those who steal food from bins rarely do so as a hobby or for "fun" (somehow diving through waste for morsels of food doesn't scream fun to me), they do so because, strangely enough, they cannot afford to pay for food, or obtain food through other means. To accost people for doing this, to threaten them with legal action is a foul act of demonisation. Effectively looking someone in the eye and stating 'you cannot afford food, but how dare you refuse to starve'. Due to particular economic attitudes, through no fault of their own, 1,084,604 people nationwide have been forced to rely on food banks.

Screen cap taken from the Trussell Trust

Secondly, if you are going to be throwing that food away, you are making a very clear declaration that you can no longer profit from the sale of this food. If you can no longer capitalise upon it and yet it is still edible, why seek to vindictively deprive people who cannot afford to put food on the table from that which is no longer of any value to you? 

After hearing this, I decided to do a little research into Norwich food banks and into the East of England Co-Operative's stance regarding the support of food banks. According to the Norwich Food Bank website, 8,905 local people (3,072 of which are children) have been forced to rely on their service in the past year. Therefore, there is evidently a need for the service within Norwich. Furthermore, according to their website, the East of England Co-Op are "dedicated to helping them ensure they have enough food available to be able to continue to provide this valuable service." [citation

On that same page, they state that they have "have foodbank collection points in every one of our food stores". Having never seen one in the Lovelace co-op, I engaged in some minor espionage and discovered this:

Though far from empty, the collection point is tucked into the back of the shop and is far from advertised, save for the tiny laminated sign on the front. Sure, you can easily enough deposit your food into it, but you're only going to find it if you're actively looking for it. This was rather discouraging. 

Furthermore, I would like to draw your attention to what is on the secluded pinboard above the collection point.

This is far more encouraging. Excellent work, Lovelace Co-Op. A shame that your manager stood fewer than 10 feet away from this very certificate, demonising the very people you are apparently "generously supporting", but at least this is something, right? I am not going to detract from your good work, you have evidently done a lot of it, but the very principle behind this act of giving has been undermined through your willingness to waste perfectly edible food. 

Considering the recent push within France to force Supermarkets to give away their unsold food to charities, I think it is clear that more can be done to aid services like the food banks, which, considering the impending benefits cuts and other austerity measures, are likely to be used even more over the coming year. 

In response to this, I have emailed one of the Executive Team members of the East of England Co-Op. (Searching for about an hour or so, I was only able to find one of their email addresses, unfortunate, some might say). I have implored them to consider donating the food that would otherwise go to waste to those who need it and to discourage their staff from demonising the poor, especially due to the commitments the brand has made to either practice.

After all, the nearest donation point for the Norwich food bank to Lovelace Co-Op is but 10 minutes down the road. 

So I encourage you, not only to donate what food you can spare to local food banks or other charities, but also to take a look at some of the businesses near you and encourage them, in whatever way you can, to donate their food, rather than simply throwing it away. Write to these businesses, let them know what you think. My whining (or the whining of those who have whined before me) is not going to achieve anything if nobody else kicks up a fuss. 

Thanks for reading.

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