Could you live on nothing but ‘waste’ food for a month?

Posted by Joe Quigley-Jones 24 Mar 2019

ALEX Thurley-Ratcliff is the first to admit that he’s was under the spell supermarkets in the past. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was in love with them, but I was definitely seduced with their glitzy ways,” laughs the 51-year-old from Portswood.

He is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch. He made the family meals when his two children were younger. Also he’s always enjoyed shopping for ingredients and picking up that special thing to complete a dish. He says supermarkets were his go-to place for his weekly shop. However he’s turned his back not only on supermarkets but also on all food shops for a month. He has taken on a challenge of only eating ‘waste’ food. Food intercepted from before heading to a landfill site or an incinerator by local food waste group CURB: The Real Junk Food Project Southampton.

The food is largely donated to the project by shops, restaurants and cafes, and would have been binned, although it is all perfectly edible. It may be short dated or the shop may have over ordered a particular item and have a surplus.

Alex is one of a team of eight members of CURB who have formed a team called Race Against Waste and together will be running the ABP Southampton Half Marathon on April 24. The aim of the team is to help raise awareness about food waste and as part of this, they are all eating nothing but ‘waste food’ throughout April.

Some of the team are seasoned ‘bin divers.’ They have experience in foraging in supermarket bins for edible food to redistribute it. But Alex is fairly new to the waste food movement, having become involved in CURB Southampton late last year.

A freelance business writer, he moved to Portswood, Southampton, from a village outside Winchester in August.

He immediately found he was able to live in a more environmentally-friendly way. This included being able to walk or cycle to independent local shops to do his food shopping. This is instead of having to drive to the nearest supermarket, and not needing a car to commute to work.
He has also made changes to his diet, giving up meat despite loving the taste of it, as a conscious ethical decision to reduce food waste.
And he has largely ditched his car in favour of cycling and walking. He has also taken up running. This means his weight has dropped from 18 stone to just over 12.

His love of food stems from his childhood. His mother and grandmother made most of their food from scratch, including bread, cheese and butter. They also grew their own vegetables. He found out about CURB Southampton at a Stop Climate Change event in the city centre and began volunteering with them as a cook at their pop up cafe events.

But this month is the first time he has tried to make meals for himself entirely from intercepted ‘waste’ food – and it’s a challenge!

His food is supplied by the CURB Southampton team and includes lots of staple produce, such as pasta and baked beans, store cupboard items like packets of soup and flour, and fresh food.

“It’s been a slightly weird diet so far,” he admits.

“You make do with what you have, which changes your relationship with food, I think. It’s a case of eating what you have when you have it. This is instead of going out and buying the ingredients for what you want. “You have to roll with it and use what you’ve got.”

But Alex thinks the change in his attitude to food is a good thing. “It makes you think ‘I’m happy to have this’, which is no bad thing, given how many people there are in the world with so little. It does us no harm to be grateful for what we do have.”
He says that receiving intercepted food, distributed on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis, has also changed his relationship with other people.

“When you are given things for free, it makes you feel more generous. You are also more likely to give things away to other people,” he muses. He adds that becoming involved in the food waste movement has also expanded his social circle. This is good news for him as someone new in town.

“When you meet people and make food, you make connections,” he says. Alex doesn’t intend to continue to live off of nothing but intercepted ‘waste’ food after his challenge finishes. However he is sure it will become a more significant part of his regular diet.

“I’d be happy with about a third of it being intercepted food,” he says.

“A lot of intercepted food is processed. I like to make my food from scratch, and I don’t want to change my diet that much.”

But he thinks that we could all eat more intercepted food. Thus reducing food waste and saving money – and adds that it doesn’t have to require much effort.

“I have a big bag of pitta chips, crackers, beans, packets of soup, pasta, ready-made cooking sauces, oat cakes, flour and sweets among the food I’ve got from CURB,” he says.

“They’re things that people have in their cupboards and that they use at some point.

“I’ve also chosen to ask for stuff that I can cook from scratch with, but that’s because I want to do.”

And so far, Alex is enjoying learning to be creative with what he has, rather than just eating what he wants. “Maybe by the end of the month I’ll find that more than a third of my diet can be intercepted food,” he says. “I didn’t know what to expect when I started and so far, I’ve not been disappointed. It’s been easier and more fun than I thought.”