From pallet to plate: What journey does a packet of pasta go on after its classed as 'surplus' by a Preston supermarket?

From pallet to plate, from crate to kitchen, what actually happens to surplus food: where is it going, and why do people want it?

By Catherine Musgrove
Thursday, 24th February 2022, 12:30 pm

A photograph of three young children holding a plate of pasta tells a far more important tale than you might think.

Because that meal has been on a journey that touches on ethics of food waste, the environment, education, food poverty and community.

>>>Heat or eat? Click here to read about food poverty in Lancashire.

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Zahra, Wildaan and Hamdaan Kazee

Catherine Musgrove followed a packet of Waitrose essential penne pasta that has gone from the supermarket, to Preston's FareShare Food Redistribution Centre, to the Muslim Cultural Council's pantry, to the home of the Kazee family in Broadgate, in order to understand how one simple ingredient can impact on so many people.

The warehouse

Every week, supermarkets, manufacturers, farming groups and distributors have surplus food they need to get rid of.

They might have made too much, it might have been mislabelled or not labelled at all, it could be close to its expiry date, it could be 'wonky' veg that doesn't sell well on the shelves, it could be in outdated branding, or there could have been a change in demand from the shopping public.

Arshad at the FareShare Centre with Jamie Boulton

And it would all have ended up in the bin, if it wasn't for the likes of FareShare, which has intercepted 1,461 tons of it in the past year - the equivalent of 3,478,765 meals.

This packet of pasta was donated to FareShare by Waitrose after arriving to the supermarket in a broken box. It was then crated up, and put on a shelf, waiting for collection.

What is Fareshare?

Established in October 2015, FareShare Lancashire and Cumbria is operated by the Recycling Lives Charity which works to rehabilitate offenders in prisons and supporting homeless men in a residential facility.

Loading the goods into the car, ready for the next day

FareShare supports these programmes by offering voluntary work placements to participants from Recycling Lives, and also offers volunteering opportunities to people from all walks of life with around 50 volunteers currently supporting seven members of staff, ranging from retired professionals to students to long-term unemployed seeking to move into work.

Jamie Boulton, regional centre manager FareShare, said: "We have lots of different types of organisations and lots of different sizes. Some are not for profit organisations running food groups, hot food provision or food pantries. We ask that they do more than just help people with food but to help with those cause addressing issues.

"We also support lots of schools who may run breakfast clubs, mid-morning snacks and potential food packages and support. We also help community groups, church and other religious groups, who offer all kinds of support to people from many different backgrounds. Over the last year we have seen an increase in requests, distributing 46 per cent more than in previous years."

To become members every organisation must go through an application process, outling the type of work they are involved with, the breadth of that work, their hygiene credentials, and their future plans.

Arshad and Ainizah Dadabhoy

"Even though this is surplus food we still follow quality controls", said Jamie.

Fareshare is currently staffed mainly by volunteers - around 50 working alongside seven paid members of staff. Some are retirees looking for social interaction, others may be from socially disadvantaged backgrounds looking for help into work, and some are from mental health or disabled backgrounds and we have a great working environment to help support all.

The pantry

Every Friday afternoon, Arshad Dadabhoy takes a break from work and drives to the Fareshare warehouse at Red Scar Business Park with his wife Ainizah.

They've been doing it since December 2019 and they never know exactly what's going to be available when they get there. But typically they'll be able to pick up a selection of seasonal fruit and veg, fish, tinned food, pasta and rice.

Arshad is one of the organisers of the Broadgate Food Pantry, and it's his responsibility to get enough food for the people who will be turning up the next morning.

Arshad with some of the goods available at the pantry

After collecting the food and loading into their car, it is driven to the pantry in Grafton Street, and when other people are putting their feet up after a week at work, or spending time with their children, Arshad and his fellow helpers ae setting up tables for the following morning.

Not that they mind. "We're playing our part, helping the community", he insists.

One of the items available this week is pasta. It's put in the back of his car along with hundreds if not thousands of other items from 50 crates of surplus food.

"It started off kind of small", said Arshad.

"The first time we went to Fareshare, we got 12 crates and we set up in the community centre next to the Mosque.

"We'd sold out within 20 minutes and from there it's been a learning curve. From that small amount, we've grown and grown. We've got more volunteers, we collect 50 crates from Fareshare and eight to 10 from Tesco, and we buy from wholesale too."

Broadgate Food Pantry operates differently to a food bank.

Arshad said: "Some places operate on eligibility criteria, but we decided on a non-discriminative approach - come and buy what you need, whoever you are.

"We've all had a tough few years, everybody's had a struggle mentally, physically, financially with bills going up, job insecurity, and this appears to work well."

The pantry offers 10 items for £3.50, with some other items slightly - but not a lot -more expensive.

"The buying aspect, not getting a handout, is a big deal", said Arshad.

"It's a diginity thing, and we're open to anyone, it's not just about low-income. A lot of it is about ethics, landfill, morals."

>>>Click here to read more about the rising cost of living in Lancashire.

He added: "We see family's coming in and leaving with carrier bags full. It helps counter the rising cost of living.

"We've seen a number of groups impacted. Young people come along, foreign students too.

"Working people have felt the pinch, and people who subscribe to the food waste philosophy come along for cheap and easy access to food.

"They know the packaging will get recycled and that it was all destined for landfill."

And what about the money? Where does that go?

"It's not going towards building a Mosque, which is something that has been said", says Arshad.

"It goes towards the rent on the building, paying for our membership at Fareshare and buying bits from wholesalers.

"It's volunteer run, so we don't pay ourselves a thing."

The plate

The Kazee family have been using the Broadgate Food Pantry since it opened, after first using one at a local primary school.

"It's not like we're struggling financially", said dad Huzaifah, but you can get the same items as in supermarkets for pennies, it's close to home, and it stops food going to waste.

"You're not going to do a full shop there, but it's good quality and we make good use of it for things like tomatoes, potatoes, onions, yogurts, cereals and even some freezer items."

He added: "We've found that you come across things you might not normally see or buy, and this way you can try them out.

"It's also about modelling good behaviour for the children. They are learning - especially because of the pandemic - that food is not an infinite resource and that it shouldn't be wasted, how to choose foods and thinking about what recipes can be made.

"They are seeing this from a very young age and they are excited to see what they can buy and to meet people at the pantry from the community.

"Charity is also a big thing in our faith, so we go and drop bags round to people who are in need locally."

Volunteers at the pantry, which opens every Saturday morning in Grafton Street
The Kazee children with their pasta from the pantry