LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The month of Ramadan is usually associated with fasting, as Muslims around the world abstain from eating from dawn to dusk to focus on their spiritual self-discipline.
This year, a community food bank and kitchen in London wants to use the holy month to highlight the issue of both food shortages and food waste in Britain.
The food bank - Sufra NW London - hosted an interfaith “iftar” meal, inviting Jewish and Christian faith leaders to join around 100 people from the local community in a three-course dinner, made entirely from food waste.
“People come to us in absolute crisis,” said Mohammed Sadiq Mamdani, founder and director of Sufra. “For many people it’s the last resort when they come to Sufra, we want to transform that into a new journey, a new opportunity.”
The number of people using Britain’s food banks, which provide emergency food supplies to poor families in need, rose in 2016 amid government austerity cuts.
Last year Sufra supported more than 3,700 people, sourcing unused but edible food from large supermarkets as well as local bakers and through personal donations.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food waste includes any item spoiled or squandered along the supply chain before it is consumed, ranging from browning bananas to misshaped vegetables or perishable baked goods.
Behind the food bank, facing a social housing estate, is an “edible garden,” a recently cleared fly-tipping site that now boasts a chicken coop, greenhouse, teepee tent where children take horticulture classes, and rows of vegetables and herbs including mint - which features in the evening’s pea and mint soup starter.
As the call to prayer signalled the setting of the sun around 9 pm, dates and water were passed around before the meal as another day of fasting was completed.
“It’s a bit of a shock ... that people in our midst still go hungry but that’s the reality we have at the moment, whereby there is plenty and enough for all but because it’s not well distributed, some go without,” said Reverend Leao Neto from the local Methodist church who addressed the crowd.
Sharing food is a tradition found across faiths, said Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith.
“I think it’s sad that we need food banks,” he said. “I think it’s a real indictment of capitalism as we practice it, there’s plenty of food and resources but I‘m afraid it’s not equitably shared.”
About a third of food produced each year is never eaten either because it is spoiled after harvest and during transportation, or thrown away by shops and consumers, according to FAO.
Discarded food ends up in landfill where it rots, releasing harmful greenhouse gasses, while the water, energy and fuel needed to grow, store and transport it is wasted.
Sufra runs with the help of 96 volunteers and a handful weave between children and grandmothers serving chocolate meringue roulade made with ingredients from Thorntons chocolatier and fresh fruit donated by Marks & Spencer for dessert.
“It’s fun,” said 17-year-old Fatima Khawaja, who is responsible for plating and serving food to guests. “You get to know people from the community, it’s just really nice.”
Another volunteer, Anthony Spencer, 18, started helping out over a year ago and said it was his first time attending a Ramadan meal. His tasks normally range from washing up to taking part in supermarket collections twice a week, collecting food that stores would otherwise throw away.
“Everyone gets along, we all treat each other like family,” he said.
In Britain an estimated 7 million tonnes of food and drink are thrown away from homes each year, costing an average household around 470 pounds a year, according to the Food Standards Agency, a government body.
Some EU countries, including France and Italy, have already adopted national measures to fight food waste. Britain still has among the lowest levels of food redistribution, a system where out-of-date but edible food is redistributed to people in need via charities and food banks.
Many faiths have a tradition of fasting and abstention and campaigns urging Muslims to consider how food is grown, eaten and disposed of are underway from the Gulf to Malaysia.
“We want to ensure we can stand together as a community and combat food poverty on our doorstep,” Mamdani said.
Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org