Defra has appointed a ‘food surplus and waste champion’, a key commitment in its recently published resources and waste strategy. His name is Ben Elliot, co-founder of lifestyle group Quintessentially, and his job is to set an ambitious direction to cut the 10.2 million tonnes of food waste produced in the UK each year.
The announcement on 31 December came in the middle of what is perhaps a modern tradition of Christmas, when the nation hits ‘peak food waste’, which I mulled over as I cooked a second batch of bubble and squeak.
So who is Elliot? A philanthropist who chairs the Quintessentially Foundation, his business’s philanthropic arm, which aims to improve education, health and welfare within disadvantaged communities, and has raised £13m to date. The foundation’s most recent partnership has been with The Felix Project to tackle food poverty in London.
Sounds like the right person for the job, which is an unpaid role. So what is planned?
It is not just concerned with the commitment to eliminate food waste to landfill by 2030. It must be about much more than that which, as it stands, is a rather under-ambitious and relatively low-value outcome in itself.
The really big wins are in reducing food waste from farm to fork, and ensuring that surplus food reaches those who need it most. For example, improving childhood nutrition has massive and far-reaching benefits, through improving health, wellbeing and educational attainment.
A recent study by the National Education Union and Child Poverty Action Group revealed that 83% of 1,000 union members surveyed see children showing signs of hunger during the school day. Hunger not only has a negative impact on physical and mental wellbeing, but it also impairs learning by reducing children’s ability to concentrate and can impact wider class attainment through disruption.
The impact on attainment is long-lasting and inter-generational, and has a massive effect on the economy and wider society.
As environment secretary Michael Gove said when announcing the appointment: “Food waste is an economic, environmental and moral scandal. We must end it. [Ben Elliot’s] first task will be to help ensure our £15m food waste fund redistributes surplus food that would otherwise be wasted.”
I would say households in poverty with school age children should be top of that list.
Elliot said about his appointment: “While families struggle to put food on the table and children still go to school with empty stomachs, there continues to be an unforgivable amount of food waste which is both morally deplorable and largely avoidable.” Quite.
So, do we need a food waste champion– yes, right behind you, Ben.
John Twitchen is the founder of environmental communications agency env23