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The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts

August 16, 2021
Lyndon Wallace, Student Groups Coordinator, Leeds Beckett Students’ Union 

Is it fair to claim that our current food system is wasteful and unsustainable? In the UK with over 8 million people struggling to access food and with 4.95 million tonnes of edible food thrown away each year it seems justified to make such a statement. Drastic action needs to be taken to change public opinions and make use of the 6 million tonnes of food waste we generate annually in the UK alone (¾ of which could have been eaten), or better yet, eradicate the problem all together.

In recent years, we have seen an emergence of food charities and organisations whose aim is to tackle the issue of food waste, making surplus food accessible for everyone. The Felix Project, The Real Junk Food Project, Too Good To Go and OLIO are some of the organisations taking the matter into their own hands and redistributing food surplus around the country in response to the issue, but it is also important that we as individuals contribute to the efforts of reducing food waste to help deal with the root causes of the problem.

Bowls of food

Here I share some of my ideas for how we can, together, have a positive impact on our food system including minimising food waste.

Firstly, we can all benefit from eating a more varied diet containing more plants. Over 75% of the world’s food supply derives from just a handful of plant species and five animal species. This demonstrates a huge lack of diversity in the everyday diet, especially the diet consumed in the Global North. Where we have to become more aware of what we eat, where it is from and what impact it has on our health and the planet. I have managed to introduce more fruit and vegetables into my diet by focusing on a different vegetable or fruit each week. Then I explore the variety of recipes that are possible with just this one ingredient, from sweet potato to sugar snap peas or chard to chicory, there is a huge range of delicious recipes using these vegetables that you might never have tried. It might be your favourite dish; you just haven’t tried it yet!

When possible, I try to eat seasonally and locally. This can sometimes be challenging when shopping at any of the big supermarkets as many products are imported. I have found that Morrisons often has locally grown produce and all their meat is from UK farms. Ideally, I would get all my ingredients from local farms or farmers markets, but there are a limited number of options available in my area.

If you have the opportunity to get to know your local producers or sustainable food networks in your area, then I urge you to do so whenever possible. Fruit and vegetables are almost guaranteed to be fresher when you shop locally.

Another great way to reduce food waste and be part of changing our food system is to grow your own food. I am lucky enough to have an allotment that helps me monitor my eating habits, and I harvest only what I need. However, you can start small and easy growing on your windowsill to start with. Tomatoes, chillies and herbs are ideal for growing inside. If you have more space, add courgettes to this, all you need is one plant and you can get between 5-12 courgettes from it, what a great way to kick off your food journey. You will be blown away by the difference in taste when you grow your own, and if you can incorporate composting your kitchen scraps you can create your own self-sufficient food cycle right at home. My main tip is, start small with a few plants. It is easy to get overwhelmed, and sometimes those little seedlings will get bigger than you might expect.

Vegetable soup

There are masses of information out there aimed to help you minimise your environmental impact. Start small, try meat-free Mondays or make a habit of simply freezing any leftovers you have rather than throwing them away. If everyone made just two tiny adjustments to their everyday lives, it would have a significant impact on our planet, because the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Read our Cook to Sell handbook to find out how you could start an enterprise cooking food. Or if you'd like help to set up an enterprise on your campus we offer a course through the Learning Academy.

Leeds Beckett's enterprise Eco Soup is part of the SOS-UK Student Eats enterprise programme, which is a member of the Our Bright Future programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

Logos: National Lottery Community Fund and Our Bright Future