By Sarah Hunt
At supermarkets across Victoria, everyday, boxes of fruit and veggies sit on trolleys waiting to be put on the shelves. The display trays are refreshed, plumped up, ordered and put into their cooler compartments. Older or imperfect goods are taken out into the cavernous storage areas behind, never to be seen again.
Also, every year, approximately 370 000 Victorians don’t have enough to eat.
It’s incongruent at best that in a state where massive excesses of food are dumped every day, there are also thousands of people skipping meals. Just as the dumpster diving movement has grown in popularity across Melbourne, so too have organised non-for-profits been looking at how to better use business food waste.
This week we spoke with Fareshare CEO Marcus Godinho, head of one of Victoria’s most active food reclamation and distribution organisations. He told us about how Fareshare provides almost 10 000 meals per week for people who would otherwise go without.
What is unique about the way Fareshare is approaching surplus food in the community?
Centralizing production like we do is relatively new. We have an abundance of food because we are taking advantage of other people’s waste and we have an abundance of people wanting to volunteer with us.
It makes more economic and environmental sense for governments to channel the money for addressing food insecurity to a group such as ours, rather than giving money for groups to go and purchase food. We do not, however, receive any government funding.
How much food are you reclaiming and distributing?
We rescue food and some of it is cooked in our kitchen and then some of it goes into agencies. All of the food we rescue we provide to community food programs for free. At the moment we are cooking just under 10 000 meals per week and redistributing around 40 tonne of food per month.
What circumstances lead people to become food insecure?
People who are on a low income, those struggling with addiction, newly arrived asylum seekers, isolated elderly and those with mental health issues are likely to be food insecure. Also, we are increasingly seeing people who aren’t unemployed or homeless skipping meals.
What factors would lead to someone with a job and housing becoming food insecure?
Food is, to a degree, a discretionary item. If there is a family where one person is working full-time and another is working part-time; if one person loses their job, it may be that the other job pays the bills in the short term, however, if the family is struggling to make those payments, food comes last.
Is this situation developing because of the rise in the cost of living relative to income in Melbourne?
If you look at long term averages the food prices are growing faster than general inflation. The rise in the cost of living also includes the cost of accommodation and the rising cost of utilities.
Do you there is a culture of excessive food consumption in Australia?
Yes. In families that aren’t food insecure there is quite a substantial amount of food waste. One third of Australian households throw out more than 1 500 dollars worth of food every year.
What is going wrong with food supply chains whereby supermarkets have an over-supply of food but community members are going without meals?
Firstly, there is a lot of waste because we don’t internalise the environmental costs associated with food production. Water is still relatively cheap and doesn’t reflect the damage being done to the river systems. We also don’t currently factor in the cost of carbon.
Secondly, it’s still cheap for many companies to dump food. The previous Victorian Government started to increase landfill costs and it has prompted companies to think of alternatives.
Thirdly, a lot of suppliers have contracts with supermarket chains that require them to provide a certain amount of food at a certain time. For many growers it makes economic sense to plant more than they’ll need in case something goes wrong and they lose their contract. This means the excess food on a farm is often turned into the ground, sent to a pig farmer or landfill.
What role does regulation play in creating food surplus?
There is a very cautious and conservative standard companies have to adhere to, so food that companies can’t legally sell could be used. In 2001, Fareshare lobbied for the good samaritan law which has been critical in allaying fears [of being sued] and encouraging more companies to donate.
Do you think with climate change the need for your services will increase?
Climate change will lead to higher food prices which will place pressure on families. For example, as we have more extreme weather events and our food production is compromised by less water being available.
You were CEO of Environment Victoria before you moved to Fareshare. What motivated you to move to a people focused position?
I’d argue this is very environmentally focused because it’s about stopping resources from being wasted and food breaking down in landfill. It’s also about reducing demand for products when they’re already there. For me its a fusion of my passions around the environment, cooking and welfare.
So where do you get your food from? Do you dumpster dive?
No, I get my food from the supermarket. I’d rather be growing my own food, buying organic and cooking a variety of meals but I’m just too short of time. The extra time I need to do that I’d rather spend putting in here to stop food from going into landfill.
If you want to read more about Fareshare’s work visit www.fareshare.org.au. Photographs provided by Fareshare.