Cycling to rescue surplus food in Newcastle
FoodCycle is growing in the North East and so is its need for cyclists. Every week, three-course community meals are served up – free of charge! – in three different venues across Newcastle, all of which are created from rescued food waste.
At FoodCycle Monkchester, based in Walker, this food is collected by bike. Using a mixture of pannier bags, trailers and rucksacks, volunteers ride around Jesmond, Heaton and Byker loading up with unsold supermarket produce which they take to a community centre to be transformed by volunteer cooks.
Zoe, one of the founding cyclists for Newcastle’s cycling team, shares her experience.
“The environment is really important to me, and so riding with FoodCycle every week to help prevent food waste, and doing so emission-free, is something I’m really passionate about. All food has a footprint. Often, the food that arrives in supermarkets has travelled continents, been through energy-intensive factories and has been wrapped in packaging. It has required water, fertilisers, processing, and refrigeration – it has basically used up A LOT of resources. Being able to reduce the amount of food ending up in landfill feels like a really worthwhile use of my time.
I’m not usually a morning person, but still every Wednesday I love hooking the trailer onto my bike, meeting up with the other cyclists and heading around the supermarkets. It’s such a refreshing and productive way to start the day, even if sometimes the weather isn’t on our side. And everyone I’ve met so far is lovely, all from different backgrounds and fitting the volunteering into their lives in different ways. Some come every week as part of their commute to work (just with a little 4-mile detour carrying panniers full of sweet potatoes). Others are retired and enjoy it as another way to get out and active. Or some are students who like to start the day off well and add a bit more structure to their weeks.
Doing collections can be insightful. I’ve learnt so much about our food system and just how wasteful our society often is. Each week, we head into the back of supermarkets (an interesting experience in itself) and collect anywhere from 15kg to 200kg of surplus food from just a handful of shops. Seeing the quality and quantity of produce that the supermarkets deem as unsellable is crazy. Some weeks we get mountains of one ingredient, other weeks it can be the most random selection of foods, from custard tarts to celeriac to passion fruit.
During every collection, I’m shocked by what is being so readily thrown away, but certain weeks stand out to me. One week, we arrived at a local supplier as usual but the bin van turned up early to collect the shop’s ‘waste’. We were about to sort through what we could take when they walked in and, following their procedure, wheeled all of the containers out and poured them straight into the bin van before we had a chance to save it. We could literally see avocados, broccoli, yoghurts, pastries and more being tipped away and then driven off to be dumped. It was a real reminder that if we weren’t there, the food would literally be going to landfill.
Instead, thankfully, what we collect ends up in Monkchester Community Centre. Often after cycling, I go and help with the cooking there and get to see what happens with the food. It’s rewarding seeing a load of rescued and often random ingredients being made into meals. The meals are really important, they become a social resource for some who rely on them to get out of the house and meet new and familiar faces. A meal can help some who may be struggling financially by providing a free, reliable and undiscriminating place to eat. They can be educational too, introducing people to new types of foods, new ways of cooking and increasing people’s understanding of food waste. The overriding feeling is that the meals provide a nice community focal point where everyone is welcome, catered to and nothing is wasted. (Plus, the food is delicious).
Ideally, we shouldn’t have to be saving this food, it should never be on course for landfill. But until something drastically changes in our food system, having FoodCycle there to help reroute it to communities is amazing. I just hope we continue to get volunteers so we can continue to cycle.”
If you’re interested in signing up to the Monkchester Cycling team, they ride every Wednesday morning from 8.30 am. You can do so here.
There is no weekly commitment, you can sign up for as many or few sessions as suits you. The only requirements are you have your own bike and feel comfortable on the road.
This blog was written for FoodCycle by Zoe, thank you, Zoe!