Before we moved to Suffolk we kept a few bantams. Rather sporadically, they produced delicious small eggs.
We abandoned any idea of keeping them in our garden in Ipswich the day we moved in and saw a lazy fox sunbathing on the lawn.
The chickens ate pretty much all our food scraps, though I was a bit squeamish about giving them cooked chicken. So our leftover food was recycled and some at least reappeared in the form of those beautiful eggs.
We miss those chickens, for the eggs and for eating our food scraps. We compost as much as we can now, but the cooked scraps in particular end up in the bin.
We are pretty good at eating leftovers – one or two meals a week are a mixture of whatever is left in the fridge. But still some gets thrown away.
And there are the vegetables that lurk at the bottom of the chiller drawer until they have metamorphosed into another life-form and the jars of food that hide themselves at the back of the fridge, to reappear weeks later now decorated with a furry blue coat.
The truth is, we do waste food, and we could waste a lot less than we do.
In fact, as a nation we waste an astonishing 10 million tonnes of food a year, with a value of about £17 billion. Apparently, 60 per of that waste could be avoided.
Of those 10 million tonnes of food wasted, 17% goes in manufacturing and food processing, while 9% is wasted by the restaurant and service sector. Interestingly, just 2% is wasted by retailers.
Which leaves an astonishing 71% wasted by us – 7.3 million tonnes thrown away from meals we don’t finish, food in our fridges and cupboards that has gone off, or just food we decide we don’t want.
Some of us say grace before we eat, giving thanks for the food and those who provided and prepared it. Throwing it away is a strange way to say thank you! In Suffolk, where food production is such a vital part of the economy, people’s livelihoods, and our whole way of life, it seems even stranger.
It must make us think when we realise that about 8.5 million people in this country live without enough food. For some that can mean a day without a meal at all.
There is enough food produced for everyone to eat. That is true in this country, and it is actually true for the world. While there is not a direct way that our wasting food causes others to go without, I believe that if we recognised how precious food is to us, and developed ways to be less wasteful, we would also recognise how precious it is to everyone, and would find ourselves working to ensure everyone had enough.
Food poverty in our country is evident through the growth of food banks. The Trussell Trust’s Foodbank Network provided over 1,182,000 three-day emergency food parcels from April 2016 – March 2017.
We have seen the foodbanks spring up across our county. The great majority of people who make use of foodbanks do so as a last resort. Often this is because there have been delays or changes in their benefits. Where Universal Credit has been fully rolled out, foodbanks have seen a nearly 17% increase in demand.
The supermarkets and other retailers are making a real difference, with chains like Morrisons, Tescos and Sainsbury ensuring that food that can still be used goes to foodbanks, or centres like night shelters where it will help those who are hungry.
There are schemes like this across the county, such as at St Thomas’ in Ipswich passing food on from the local Tescos to people in need as part of the national ‘Foodshare’ project.
Christians are making a real difference helping others across Suffolk, not least at the Haverhill Foodbank, a charity supported by Churches Together.
At Felixstowe and Walton there are now three charity food shops in churches there, two in Church of England parishes, and one at a Trimley Free Church, which are coordinated by The BASIC Life Charity (Business And Service In Christ).
But given that domestic food waste is by far the biggest challenge, what can we do?
Well, it may seem obvious, but we can stop buying food, especially perishable food, that we don’t really need. Then we should not confuse ‘best before’ and ‘use before’ dates. I have to say, personally, look and smell remain my own chief guides.
Then we can get involved, volunteering in a foodbank or other local schemes.
I hope we can all make a difference in this, and reduce our food waste, work to eliminate hunger in our own land and county, and show our gratitude to the farmers and fishermen and food producers for harvesting enough for everyone out of the bounty that God provides.
Maybe it is time to get some chickens again.
-- The Right Rev <artin Seeley is Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich