Exeter Food Action – Learn More About Our 2018 Charity

Nicole Porter
  • Client Services Manager
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The Briefing

We are avid foodies here at gm-design and with an award-winning Devon Home Cook in our midst (we’re looking at you, Emy!), it really resonated with us to choose a local food action charity to support in 2018.

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The Challenge

Nominated by our Digital Editorial Assistant, Gemma, Exeter Food Action (EFA) rescues excess food from shops and suppliers and redistributes it to charitable organisations that feed people in the local area. The main aim of the organisation is to reduce the mind-boggling excess waste here in the UK – cutting landfill and greenhouse gases – and put it to good use within the local community.

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Up to 44% of bread produced in the UK is wasted, and only half of that occurs in homes.
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To find out a little more about the charity, we spoke to Jon Curtis, Joint Founder and Treasurer for EFA, about his thoughts on the issue of food waste and his involvement in the organisation…

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
“A keen punk rocker originally from Cullompton, I now live in Exeter with my wife, Beth, and my two children, Freddie and Martha. I have worked in a number of different fields within the community over the years – I ran the Taunton Association for the Homeless hostel, before moving to Exeter to work as a teacher at Exeter College. Whilst studying for a PhD in Theology, I was offered a position with the Exeter Methodist Church to spearhead innovative responses to what we can do to utilise our local resources. The Methodist Church is at the forefront of encouraging social action – practicing what they preach – and it was my role to do something different!”

What sparked your passion for reducing food waste?
“As part of my position with the Methodist Church, I decided it would be an interesting experiment to give up money for Lent. Expecting to learn some personal lessons, I hadn’t quite envisaged the social issue that this would highlight; having sourced much of my food from supermarket bins, I was shocked at how much fresh, usable produce is wasted (and even purposely spoiled!) by wholesalers and retailers each day, that could otherwise have gone to those in need. And that’s not even accounting for the issue of home food waste. I felt a solution needed to be found, the supermarkets needed to be challenged, and consumers needed more education on this topic.”

How did you become involved with the EFA?
“I was put in touch with Martyn Goss, Society and Environment Officer for the CofE Diocese of Exeter, who shared my passion and had already been involved with a food waste initiative in Plymouth. In 2011, we decided to open a hub in Sidwell Street, Exeter, to collect food donations from shops/wholesalers that would have gone to waste and distribute it to soup kitchens and hostels in the local area.”

How has EFA progressed during your time with the charity?
“We began with a small team of volunteers who collected and delivered the food on foot, however as word spread, more businesses came on board and the funding for our cause increased. So too did our team of volunteers and the scale of operation. Having initially worked under the umbrella of the Devon and Cornwall Food Association, in September 2017 we broke away as a standalone charity, Exeter Food Action, and now look to increase the size of our central hub to allow us to utilise much more wasted food in the future.”

Looking to the Future
“In the relatively short time that we have been operating in Exeter, we have already seen a decrease in the amount of waste produced by local retailers, which is incredible! I think having to take account of the waste they were producing and donating made them aware of just how much was being thrown away – this has led to new in-store activities to combat the issue, such as marking the price down on perishable items further in advance.

EFA’s aim over the next 2 to 5 years is to become a more accessible hub, that allows greater ease for retailers/wholesalers and recipient charities to donate and collect – we have recently signed-up our largest local store, Sainsburys on Pinhoe Road, and are waiting for news on government funding that will allow us to open a much bigger warehouse in Exeter. Currently operating as the middleman, our long-term goal would be to unite those donating and the charities who benefit, to simplify and speed up the process, so that the remaining waste that would ordinarily be thrown away, goes directly to those who can utilise it. Tesco has already been trialing a text messaging initiative to achieve this, where they send alerts to charities when they have perishable items ready for collection.

We understand that it will be near impossible to cut food waste completely, and there is still a demand for food donations to support the vulnerable in our community, however if we can continue to focus on reducing the excess that was just going straight to landfill, our mission will be a success.”

Any Leaving Thoughts?
“Choice is a luxury we do enjoy in UK supermarkets, but when it comes at the expense of an unimaginable amount of food waste in store and at home, which the consumer ultimately has to pay for, we begin to question if we need such variety and so many in-store deals encouraging us to buy much more than we actually need. I know I would prefer a slightly smaller choice, all at a consistently low price. As much as it is down to the retailers and wholesalers to be much more responsible for the waste they produce, it is the task of the consumer to persuade businesses that the issue is important to them – and vote with their feet!”

gm-design are really excited to be supporting such a fantastic cause this year. As well as planning some team fundraising events (watch out for news of our gm. bake sale coming soon!), gm. will also be assisting EFA with some key marketing activities to help promote their work and the issue of food waste in the community with a focus on educating the consumer. In the meantime, check out EFA’s website for more information on their latest work.

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