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Food Works “We are a community led organisation, based around principles of mutual aid.”

The cost of living crisis has thrown many into poverty, but Food Works are building a community that hopes to provide nutritious, sustainable food to all.

Foodworks1 Credit Anisa M Photography
Anisa M Photography

Rising prices on consumer goods including food and drink have left thousands battling for survival.

What is clear, however, is that there is more than enough food for everyone. According to climate action NGO WRAP, 200,000 tonnes of edible food still goes to waste in the supply chain. This is not a crisis of availability - it is a crisis of morality and inaction.

Just over a week ago, Ofgem announced a huge increase to the energy price cap, from £1,971 to £3,549 per year. When this comes into effect in October, an even greater number of people will struggle to afford basic necessities such as food - all while oil and gas companies rake in record profits.

Established in 2015, Food Works Sheffield saves around 500 tonnes of food from landfill every year, primarily by intercepting waste from businesses and producers. This food is then distributed to local people on a contribute-what-you-can-afford basis through their market, cafes and ready meals. With food prices soaring, this model has never been more valuable, and projects such as this are becoming a lifeline for many people.

Foodworks 11 Credit Anisa M Photography
Anisa M Photography

I talked to Selina Treuherz from Food Works about the cost of living crisis, the climate crisis, and their involvement in city-wide plans to tackle food poverty.

How do you think the need for social enterprises like Food Works has changed since its formation in 2015?

The context surrounding the project has changed so much since 2015. When Food Works first started, it was seen as a radical concept to take perfectly edible food from the bin. Now almost all community food providers, both in Sheffield and nationally, rely on surplus food for at least some of their supply. The combination of Covid-19 and, more recently, rising inflation rates mean that many people have turned to these projects as a form of support, or in some instances, as a lifeline.

In addition to providing food, Food Works has also grown into a significant community space: allowing people from across the city to support one another and develop skills and ideas to build the future we deserve for the city. There simply had not been as many cuts to public services in 2015 to make this such a big part of Food Works as it is now.

Finally, the food system in 2015 was seemingly less precarious than it is now; as a city we are increasingly vulnerable to global volatilities. The need for a campaign organisation to ensure everyone in the city has access to the food they deserve has never been greater.

Food Works volunteers

The cost of living crisis means that people are struggling to meet their basic needs - including feeding themselves and their children. How does Food Works hope to support disadvantaged communities at a time when supermarket food prices are becoming untenable?

Food Works exists to make a fair and sustainable food system for everyone in Sheffield, so it is important that the food we redistribute is accessible to everyone in the city. We work on a contribute-what-you-can-afford basis, with every ‘shop’ or ‘meal’ on a minimum contribution of £1. This is a model that actually works: we often find that people are able to contribute more at certain times of the month or year, and those that are able to give more usually do, ensuring that those who are unable to do so are still able to get some food!

How is Food Works part of a city-wide plan to tackle the crisis? What other organisations and communities do you work alongside?

Food Works has over 14 partner hubs across the city, creating access points where the public can pick up Food Works JustMeals. These are on a contribute-what-you-can-afford basis with a minimum donation of £1 providing access to hot meals to communities across the city.

In addition, Food Works has been closely working with Sheffield City Council and Sheffield’s sustainable food network (ShefFood) as well as speaking to other Food Providers in the city.

Last winter, two staff members from Food Works worked with Sheffield City Council to produce the Food Ladders Report. They spoke with over 20 Food Providers in the city to try and understand what support was available to different communities across the city, and where the gaps were. The process of forming the report brought many different types of food providers together, such as food pantries and food banks, who had previously found it difficult to do so, leading to the Food Ladders Network. The report’s recommendations have since produced a Food Action Plan by Sheffield City Council, which commits £200k to supporting food provision in the city over the coming year, for supporting food banks should donations decline, but also to provide support that is more than just emergency parcels.

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With multiple crises unfolding day by day, it can be easy for people to push the looming threat of climate breakdown to the back of their minds. But we can’t afford to forget about climate breakdown. Could you tell us a bit about how Food Works’ focus on sustainability works alongside tackling local food insecurity?

Our work will always have a focus on sustainability, because all of the food that we redistribute would have otherwise ended up in landfill. To put the scale of this work into context, Food Works compares to a forest of 50,000 trees in terms of carbon impact. Everything we do is also educating people about the extent of the issue of food waste in this country, as over ⅓ of all food is wasted. Our Just Meals are a unique, zero-waste product, consisting of a nutritious, delicious frozen meal made from food that would have otherwise gone to landfill in compostable packaging, to be ready at your convenience in under 10 minutes: it’s certainly a meal that gives more than it takes.

We also have the Food Works Farm, which produces healthy, nutrient-dense veg for our kitchens - one of the best things is to speak with excited customers who have never had food so locally grown!

Lorna planting peas food works farm may 2021

What can people do to support Food Works, and their own communities?

Food Works is a community organisation delivering over a million meals worth of sustainable food to the city that can be accessed by everyone. The cost of living crisis, coupled with the climate crisis, has made us increasingly concerned about how to keep people fed and healthy over the coming difficult years. One of the easiest ways people can support is to actually contribute what they can afford, and be generous with their contribution. One of the most important things is that we have enough money to pay the bills!

If you are able to, get in touch with local businesses, manufacturers and farms in your area to see if they have any surplus food that they are unable to use, which we would be able to redistribute.

Additionally, the last time we faced a food crisis like this, the UK came together in a massive collaborative effort to make public spaces available for growing food and keeping everyone fed in the 'Dig for Victory' in WWII. Ultimately, if we have the space and the people, we can grow our food. And so on that basis, we are currently looking at places where we might be able to grow food for the city to make sure no one goes hungry in the challenging times ahead.

Finally, we are always looking for volunteers. Food Works is run by volunteers, and there are over 500 within our network. As we feed more and more people, growing our volunteer base is really important!

Going into winter, the cost of living crisis is likely to become even more pressing, with many having to choose between ‘heating and eating’. How do you see Food Works changing in the future?

Food Works will continue to distribute our food across the city, with lots of work being done at the moment to tap into extra streams of surplus food and collect bulk surplus deliveries. This will also allow us to support more individuals and organisations across the city. We have been speaking with Sheffield City Council in case our cafes need to become designated ‘warm spaces’ over winter. We are a community-led organisation, based around principles of mutual aid. There is no doubt that the Food Works community will rise up to support one another even more in the future.

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