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Discussing food waste and feeding the nation with UK Harvest

Isobel Lawrance 22nd Sep 2022 No Comments

Reading Time: 17 minutes

We recently hosted an Instagram Live, where Magpie Izzy sat down with Sarah Morison from food waste charity UK Harvest. They discussed the work UK Harvest do, how they help feed people across the UK and more! If you missed the live, don’t fear! You can watch it below. You can also read the transcript of the live below, too!

Don’t forget to check out the UK Harvest website here. You can find them on Instagram here and follow The Nourish Hub here.

UK Harvest have plenty of volunteering opportunities. If you are unable to volunteer, why not sign up to their newsletter or join one of their upcoming online cook-alongs?



So thank you so much for coming on. This is Sarah Morison from UK Harvest for everyone that’s joined so far, hopefully we’ll get a few more people as time goes on. So UK Harvest is a food, food waste charity, I’d say, you know, trying to try to feed the nation at this time, which is an amazing, amazing thing to be doing. So we wanted to hop on with Sarah and sort of discuss UK Harvest, and everything they get up to, the work they do and how you can help them and how they can help you.

So yeah, so we’ll be discussing things. If you’ve got any questions, just leave them below. We’ll try and answer them. And there’ll be a playback of this on the website and on our YouTube channel afterwards. So if you have to leave for any reason, or your connection drops out or you come in halfway through, there will be a playback. So, Sarah, so if you want to just start by sort of talking us through what UK Harvest is what they do, that’d be really great.


Absolutely, thanks. UK Harvest was literally set up in 2017. So, we’re quite a young charity, we’re very much an environmental charity. As we prevent food waste, the whole idea is we capture that food that would otherwise go to waste. So it might be surplus food, right across the supply chain. And that’s farmers, growers, producers, wholesalers, distributors, live events, any food that might otherwise get wasted. And actually 80% of what we rescue is perishable. So it’s fresh fruit and veg, so you’re working to quite tight timings because it literally can rot in front of you. And we need to capture that and redistribute it to people who really need it. So that’s the environmental level.

But what’s so fantastic is taking something that would otherwise go to waste and ensure that those who really do need it. And that’s homeless, refuges, domestic abuse shelters, we’ve got a network of almost 300 charities right across the south of England that we support through this donated food. But there’s another project I’ll tell you about in a minute. So we’re super busy collecting the food and redistributing it to those who need it. But I think the important thing is some food redistribution charities are literally about logistics.

We’re strong believers that if you wrap everything we do around with education – it’s no giving someone a butternut squash if they don’t know what to do with it. So we’re really about equipping people to learn some budget friendly, quick easy tips that they can use in the kitchen to expand their diet and build up healthy nutritious foods and meals with the food that we provide.


Great and I noticed on your website you have a whole bit about recipes, easy recipes, you’ve got some nice, pancakes on there, frittatas, delicious things, my mouth is watering when I was looking at it all, but really great that you have that kind of online presence that you say that education presence, you’ve got some videos I think they’re called the Hairy Harvesters, that’s great, great initiative as some really good videos and making some easy things.

Like you say I think it’s great you know, it’s one thing to give people food and then to another thing to sort of educate them how they can how they can make things out of it and there’s so many things you can make out of you know, some tomatoes you can make an array of things and you know, I think it’s really great that that sort of online platform is there for people to sort of go back to as well and I noticed you had a an online cook along.


Yeah, that’s one thing I was going to hope to promote today actually if you go onto our website, so it’s UK in scroll along the top there’s various tabs and under community, we’ve got a whole section called Nourish Ed so nourish education, and that is just full of money saving, waste preventing, cookery courses and tips. Lots of, as you say, leftover recipe ideas to give you inspiration. So if you’ve got those last few carrots lying around, you know, I could do it here, I can do that. We are really lucky to work with super creative chefs. And every single day here is like Ready Steady Cook, we have no idea what produce is going to be collected from the farms that day.

So this morning, I’ve just been over and there’s cauli shoots in there.So like long cauliflowers, we’ve got masses of lovely fresh tomatoes that will probably turn in a couple of days. So we’re desperately coming up with lots of more tomato recipes, chilies, all sorts. So that Nourish Ed platform on our website is just great for going on to and picking up those recipe and ideas.

Also on there, you’ll see there’s three live cook-alongs coming up. And as we all know, we’ve all had to rein our budgets in, we can’t necessarily, Deliveroo takeaways are all now a luxury. So we’ve got a series of cook-alongs coming up, there’s one on the 30th of September number one on the 4th of October number one on the 17th. They’re all free to join, and we’re doing takeaways, we’re going to teach you how to make, I don’t know cool chilli, a bit of a Mexican, we might do.

But using really good store cupboard ingredients that you’ve already probably got at home, and you’ve forgotten about the paprika in the cupboard. And then there’s and we’ll put that together and you can have a fakeaway at home. So that’s about equipping people with really good cooking skills, but to eat really healthy on a budget.


That’s such a good idea as well, because like you say, you know, we all have a cheeky take away from time to time, we love to, you know, end our Friday night with something delicious, to reward ourselves for the week, but it’s about saving the pennies at the moment. And you know, a lot of my favourite meals that I make are ones that I sort of think right what have I got in the cupboard? How can I make something out of this?

And I think yeah, like you say, just sort of showing people yet, you know, the weirdest mix of ingredients you might not have thought of could make something so delicious, and save you so much money. And I think you know, fakeaway is such a good way to start because you know, we all love a takeaway, but unfortunately, they are just going up in price. And sometimes, you know, you can make something even better than to take away at home.


So with that, you’re absolutely right, it’s cheaper when you do it at home, you can have just lots of fun doing it, especially if it’s part of a cook-along. And what we try and embed in all our courses are these sort of food waste tips. So that you’re you’re not peeling a veg, you can ditch the peeler, it just give it a scrub, it’s got loads of nutrition in the in the skins of these vegetables and things, and really thinking about what waste you are creating at home.

Because we are very much operating at this industry level. And we if you look at the food waste available, we are taking 30% of what gets wasted. That’s what happens at farms, but 70% of food waste actually happens at home. So we’ve all got to work really hard to reduce our own. And that’s not just like financial, it’s also because all of that food, the effort that’s gone into growing and the water and the power and the energy, the transport to get that food and then put it in the bin and throw it into landfill is just tragic. So I feel like one environmental thing we can all do to help.


Yeah, that’s fascinating. You say that, because best before dates and sell by dates are there as a guide, but I think a lot of people use them as you know, bible. I get, you know, maybe chicken and things you don’t want to use past the date because they can be dangerous, but things like vegetables and fruit. You know, do the sniff test. So you might get the odd squidgy tomato, but I find you can chuck them in a spag bol. That’s fine. I think you’re right. I think we waste a lot more than people think. And I’ve really tried to cut back and think more about what I’m chucking away. And the freezer is my best friend. You know, everything I can’t eat, I just freeze. It’s great.


That sounds like you already all over the tips, which is great. I think that you’re absolutely right with best before dates, that is literally a guide of quality. It’s not a religion in any way. Just use your own judgement. And the only thing we really advocate is if you see a use by date, that’s the one you listen to. And as you say, if you get near that and you realise that you’re not going to use those chicken breasts tonight, tomorrow night, whack them in the freezer, it buys you a massive amount of time. You can literally freeze that three months, and then use it when you need it. But you just must freeze freeze freeze if you’re coming up against a by date.


Yeah, definitely. So, what do UK Harvest do sort of on the ground level, so I know you have some hubs, and some community kitchens and things. Could you tell us a bit more about those?


Totally. We grew massively during COVID. You can imagine when suddenly all of those routes to hospitality, schools, restaurants, everything closed. All of that food backed up very, very quickly. And we were literally inundated with a crazy amount of food. And although we were delivering to lots of charities and individuals who were vulnerable and sheltering during COVID, we quite quickly realised that that just wasn’t the most effective way of doing it.

So when we set up this network of pantries, and we call it a pop up pantry, and it’s really so much more than just food, it’s a way of coming together in the community. And the ones that we run down in Chichester, where we’re based, but we stretch as far as Midhurst and down to Selsey. It’s all on our website under pop up pantry, we turn up for an hour at a community centre. And we work really closely with that community to make sure that people from that really local area are coming in.

We also target the housing associations in that area. We work with a lot of refugees.It’s great we work with anyone who might be on a tight budget, and the difference with us and food banks is there’s no registration. We welcome everyone, you’re all working together to try and rescue this food. But people who are on a tight budget can literally pop a suggested donation of £3.50 and bring a bag and rescue the food that they want to feed their family with. So unlike a food bank, where it might be very much tinned base, this is much more fresh, nutritious, and people can choose. And that selection is really key, because they’re choosing what they want to feed their family that week.

And we can also wrap the food around with advice. Citizen’s advice are amazing. They come down to some of our pantries and they can help people get on board with checking what other additional benefits they might have. All of that can be wrapped around and we engage people around the food  And we’ve really found post COVID that you know, whether it’s some elderly people who might have had that sort of isolation, this breaks that social isolation, it brings these communities together. And it’s such a happy vibe.

The pantry is great, everyone goes away sharing recipes, ideas, tips on what we can do with the broccoli and it gets people talking and thinking about how to use and expand those diets and not waste food. So that’s pantry network. And then as you said we’ve also got this fabulous project in London called the Nourish Hub. And I’d encourage anyone in West London to come and visit it’s incredible. We were lucky enough to get funding through the Mayor of London and Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council to turn one of those, it’s like a Sainsbury’s local that used to be, it’s at the bottom of a big tower block in West London, Shepherds Bush. And it’s now the most thriving community kitchen.

So we serve really nutritious, great vegetarian meals every day, there’s a suggested donation price of say, five pounds for curry, delicious curry. But if you can’t afford it, that’s fine. Don’t worry about it. So we we target everyone in the community, whether you’re working in an office around the corner, and you can pop down for a nice affordable lunch. Or you might be really struggling and homeless. And we have some lovely guys that come in every single day and have hot food with us. So we really bringing that whole community together in West London.

And what’s great as well is the catering kitchen there, the team of chefs who are prepping the food for the cafe every day, are really supported by I mean, none of our operation would happen without volunteers. We’ve got some lovely volunteers in there who are also learning really key cookery skills. And sometimes it’s like a stepping stone for them to get employment, say at the end of it and go into the hospitality industry. So we can train up within the kitchen and give them references when they move on. So there’s that catering site.

And then at the other end of the Community Cafe is a fabulous training kitchen, where we can run targeted courses to families, to different charities we work with, to teach those key cooking skills. And in the holidays, obviously, we have the holiday activity programme to support those kids on free school meals to learn some great cooking skills and also get a nice hot lunch at the same time. So I can’t say projects are happening all over. But it’s really good how we can use food. And this is all rescued food. It’s all used to really sustain and engage people around food waste eating meals, and really getting people out of that isolation and coming together around food.


Yeah, I think the word community is perfect for it because you really are. You know, it’s not just about food. It’s about you know, helping people get involved and make friends. And I think that’s really lovely, especially as you say, COVID put a lot of people into isolation and people felt very lonely. And you know, there’s a big loneliness issue with elderly people especially and I think that’s a lovely, lovely thing and it gives them a sort of safe space to come and join in. And I also saw on your website, you mentioned you can there’s a suggested donation, but you said you will never turn anyone away. So even if you’d only give 10p. You know, that’s that’s so lovely to know. And I think that will really reassure a lot of people and take weight off a lot of people’s shoulders, especially at the moment.

So I think that’s really great. I had a couple more questions for you. So obviously you said you were based in Chichester, and you sort of go down to, I saw you doing some things in Brighton where I live actually. So is it sort of just based sort of down South?


The UK Harvest distribution centre if you like, the actual rescue operations part of the business is very much as you say in Chichester. But in fact, the area we cover, we go as far as Bristol on a Monday and collect from there, we go right out to Kent and collect there and into South London. So we collect, we cover very much the South of England in terms of our reach. And that’s in terms of the donors we pick up from.

And we support in terms of other ones, sometimes there’s opportunities that come through, you know, amazing amounts of food that might suddenly become available up near Birmingham, we’ve actually set up during COVID fantastic thing called the Xcess Network. We can put links on I’m sure, but I think up with other similar type charities. So with a massive opportunity comes through to us, we’re really good, the whole food rescue world is determined to just not waste. So we tell partners that might be the bread and butter further north. And we’ll say, can you guys rescue this because it’s just out of our reach. And equally, if there’s a massive food, or we’ve got a glutt of sweet potatoes, we’ll link with City Harvest, and do a swap will drive up with potatoes, they’ll give us apples and pears, you know, we literally trade the whole time. So it’s a real partnership working.

But in terms of usage of the projects that people can access. Our pantries at the moment are very specific spaced all our courses that are available on our website, that’s all online, that’s nationwide, you go for it enjoy anywhere you are. And then the London centre. I mean, we’ll see anyone that can get to Shepherd’s Bush. We’re five minutes away from that.


Wonderful and you said that, you know, you offer a lot of things for free, which I think is amazing, you know, these courses online and these recipes online. So how can people donate to you or volunteer their time? You know, can people just sign up to volunteer? Or can they you know, donate a bit of money if they want to? How does that work?


Brilliant. Absolutely. The easiest thing is if you go to our website, the top right, it says Get Involved, if you click on there, there’s different ways of doing it. So you can donate time. And if you want to volunteer for us, absolutely. There’s a sign up sheet there. We are always looking for volunteers, the the opportunities, if I’m honest, sort of fluctuate depending on the projects we’ve got involved. But it’s great to be involved, you’ll always have a newsletter that you know, we keep you up to date with those those options. The other click down is obviously Donate Money.

For aid, we’re a charity, we are totally reliant on donations on grant funding, some National Lottery Funding Council funding, we really really need it to keep those vans on the road to keep rescuing. So if anyone is able to donate money, then that would be fabulous. And there’s a very simple donate button there. The other thing, which is just lovely is just to sign up to our newsletter link, very easy to do. And that way, you’ll just have a newsletter every week with what we’re up to as a charity. And you might see the different projects we’re involved in, and also some food waste tips.So there are different ways that you can get involved like that.


Wonderful. And do you have any sort of tips just off the top of your head? You know, we’ve covered a few little tips here and there. Just ways people you know, tonight can look in their fridge and think, right? How can I save this food? Or you know, is there anything that you can do to save yourself a bit of money and sort of prevent some food waste in your home?


Absolutely, there’s millions, we often say a lot of it is just organising your fridge, sometimes it’s quite good to have one of the shelves, which is the ‘I need to eat this now’ shelf, to make sure that you’ve you’ve clocked what’s in there. And maybe it is the chicken breast that’s just about to go off, it makes sure that there’s a sort of go to shelf that you use first. And literally while you’re looking at the data, ignore the best before, it’s used by you look at. Put it in the freezer, if you’re not going to use it, definitely.

The other thing we always say is just before you get supermarket or maybe before you head to work in the morning, take a picture of the fridge, take a picture of your cupboard. So when you go shopping, you end up buying what you’ve already got in your fridge, simple thing, just take that picture and you’ll remember not to buy double, you know, plan the meals that you’re actually going to eat and be realistic about it. We sometimes have this grand plan and what we’re going to shop for for the week and then half of it, you know doesn’t get used for whatever. Really, really think about the meal planning. Take that picture of your food and just try to eat in the order that you know it’s going to run out.

But yeah, just get creative mix things up. Try and experiment. We’ve got some recipe ideas that will always give you inspiration.


Yeah, absolutely. There’s so much, so much on your website. We’ve got a question here from Chloe who says; “Really great ideas. Is there any food that shouldn’t be frozen?”


Any food that shouldn’t be frozen…there’s sometimes controversy about egg but I’m afraid, we still freeze eggs. You can break them down, crack them in a bag and that way they can be frozen. I’m doing a shout out here. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. Salad I suppose, whatever you call salad. But anything like herbs, you know, chop it up, put it in with oil in those little ice trays. That would be a great tip. But no, we haven’t found one that’s a massive no yet, so we’re all about freezing if you can.


Great and you know there’s so many things that people don’t think to freeze that freeze fine. I froze hummus, I froze cream cheese you know sometimes it might separate a bit, just give them a stir and it’ll go back to normal. I think just trial and error. I think I some things, yeah, they might look a bit dodgy once defrosted. But yeah, just give them a stir and they kind of go back. But yeah, I think that’s a really, really good tip.

I’ve never actually tried to freeze eggs, but I guess that would work. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work. But yeah. And obviously you spoke about the cook-alongs coming up. Is there any other events that we can look out for or anything exciting coming up for UK Harvest?


We have got some projects, I’m just wishing we were a couple of days down the line. So, I’d really love it if everyone can follow @UKHarvest. For our Instagram, we’ll be launching something soon around Halloween. I hope tips, because I’m a real one of like, don’t just carve your pumpkin, cook it this year, you know, make sure that things like that just don’t get wasted.

So the Nourish Hub on Instagram, that’s all shows you all these lovely menus that are happening in London every day. But the cook-alongs, that’s a nationwide programme, we would love people to join the cook-alongs and the more who can engage with that the better. So try. See what you think and do that fakeaway at home.


Yeah, wonderful. And you know what, it’s funny you say about pumpkins, because I made a lovely pumpkin soup last year with my pumpkin and toasted the seeds. And that was delicious. I think it’s great. Like, I think once you get into that mindset of right, I’ve got some leftovers. What can I do with it? Right, I’ve got a random bit of pumpkin, what can I do?

And you know, my Mum, she’s a very frugal woman. She’s taught me all I know, bless her and she always says freeze all vegetable scrapings and things and make some vegetable stock out of them. And I think that’s such a nice idea. And you think, oh, it’s a bit weird just shoving loads of vegetable peel in water, but it’s so delicious. And it’s so cheap to make. And again, just another way to prevent that waste, which is great.


We actually had a lovely team of volunteers in here earlier and they’ve been making, so you peel potatoes, because we did actually need to peel them for this project we were doing. But all of the peelings, we literally just puts a little bit of curry powder on, bit of oil, put them in the oven is the most delicious, like sort of potato peel crisps. So I’m like you can make this a challenge. What can I do with these? Just Just avoid putting anything in the bin. Please, please, please.


And if you do compost it, don’t put it in the general waste. Well, thank you so much. Just before we go, I was gonna say you know, obviously, the colder months are coming and Christmas is coming up. And if there is anyone watching or who watches this back that maybe knows someone at Christmas that maybe is homeless or something like that. Are you open during the Christmas period? Are you helping people out at that time?


We are literally just putting together our programme for Christmas. So I think the best thing is please look at the website. Absolutely. We will obviously extend the help as much as we can. And we are working with other projects. So we’ll always signpost to other additional support if we need to. And up to Christmas, we will be doing loads of different education classes about just how not to over buy for Christmas, just plan and don’t overdo it because it really is a sort of time of year where there is a lot of food waste that so avoidable.

So I think this year particularly, when budgets are tight, we’re going to make sure that people don’t overspend. But you know, lots to share and keep following us. But yes, we will be supporting as many people as we can this winter so the more donations the better. There’s a donate food button also on the website. So we will work with any food brands, industry partners, growers who are able to link up with us that’d be great.


Wonderful. Well thank you so much. I’ve been chatting with Sarah Morison from UK Harvest so make sure you follow UK Harvest and is it Nourish Hub?


The Nourish Hub, yes. It’s our London Community Cafe. But it’s all you can see the link certainly through at UK Harvest. Sarah Morison Wonderful and make sure to check out the UK Harvest website. You can volunteer, you can donate or just check out their amazing recipes. They got some really nice things on there. So definitely check that out. You’ve got some casseroles, you’ve got some pies, everything, so definitely if you’re stuck for recipes, definitely check out UK harvest. We will be popping this live on our YouTube channel and on our website. So you can watch it back if you’ve just come in. And we’ll be linking to the UK Harvest website so you can find them there as well.

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