We are delighted to introduce the Oxford Food Bank who are co-sponsoring the Saturday lunch at the Symposium with Borough Market.
Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background in food, and your current role at the Oxford Food Bank
Hi, my name is Liz Buckle and I work as a volunteer at the Oxford Food Bank, I’ve been doing this for about a year since I ‘retired’ from a job with the Environment Agency – England’s environmental regulator. I don’t have a background in food but I do like to eat fresh, good quality food and feel that this is a basic necessity for everyone. My environmental background and experience means that I’m passionate about the need to reduce waste and that includes food waste. I’m also a really keen gardener and allotment holder so love being able to pick and eat fresh fruit and veg and eat it within hours.
I’m one of around 100 volunteers at the Food Bank and I drive or go out in vans to either collect fresh food from suppliers or to give food to charities.
Please tell us a little about the work of the Oxford Food Bank
Oxford Food Bank is different to the usual food bank model. We primarily work with fresh produce rather than non perishables. Our main aim is to drive a reduction in food waste and second to this we want to make sure that good quality surplus food is used to feed people in need. We make daily collections of food from a range of supermarkets and wholesalers in and close to Oxford and then deliver this to around 80 charitable / community organisations, mostly in the city. Even in a city like Oxford there’s a big need for support to vulnerable people.
The theme of this year’s Symposium is offal which encompasses the related topic of food waste. From the perspective of the Oxford Food Bank, how big a problem is food waste? What are the main contributing factors?
It’s a no brainer really!
– supermarkets and wholesalers dispose of large amounts of fresh produce that isn’t ‘good’ enough to sell and our work helps them to improve their performance by minimising the amount of waste they pay to dispose of.
– there are many people who benefit from our food supply, people using night shelters and homeless hostels, refugees and asylum seekers, people with mental and physical disabilities and children and elderly people.
We shift around 350 tonnes of food a year, we are a 7 day a week operation (so nearly a ton of food a day!) and are entirely funded through donations to cover our running costs. For every £1 donated we provide about £20 worth of food – so a very strong return on the investment made by donors.
Food waste is a big issue and we feel proud that we are making a dent in this but there is so much more that could be done. We know that the food supply industry disposes a huge amount of perfectly edible food and consumers do the same. I love listening to some of the cooks and chefs that we meet when we are out with a van, their creativity around how they will use what is sometimes a bit of a random collection of food is great to listen to!
What are the next steps that need to be taken to reduce waste further?
My personal views on how we can reduce food waste further include a review of some aspects of food regulation which drive the disposal of perfectly edible food, greater transparency from supermarkets on their performance and driving better cooking skills to avoid waste.
How did you first get involved with the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery? Can you tell us a bit about the lunch you are organising for this year’s Symposium?
I got involved in the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery because a personal friend of mine attends and told me about this year’s theme. We discussed getting involved at the Food Bank and I agreed to lead on this as a project. We are working with Tim Kelsey, the chef at St Catz and David Matchett at Borough Market to make sure that we have good ingredients to make a tasty vegetarian lunch on the Saturday. We aren’t quite sure about all the ingredients that we will have available for the 9th July so that adds to the excitement!
We are hoping to practically demonstrate that good meals can be made from surplus food which otherwise would be sent into the waste cycle. For the Oxford Food Bank we are hoping to raise awareness of our work and also to encourage some donations to our running costs!