As a regular volunteer outside of the workplace, I ‘m really proud that HRW encourage activities like this and give us all a day out of the office every year to volunteer for an initiative of our choice. It’s something very close to my heart: In my free time, I act as Chair of the UK Board of Trustees for The Small Things UK – Nkoaranga Orphanage, based in Tanzania; as well as a befriender for the Blind Veterans UK Charity. So, this year, I wanted to take the opportunity to expand my volunteering and become involved in something quite different to what I typically do.
On Monday 10th June, I took part in ‘Oxford Green Week’, part of a week-long festival of events celebrating and inspiring action against climate change. Monday’s event was a ‘Waste not Want not: Surplus Lunch’; giving away a free lunch to members of the public in the centre of Oxford – surplus food that had been donated by the Oxford Food Bank and would have gone to waste otherwise.
The Oxford Food Bank collects good quality food from wholesalers, supermarkets and manufacturers, and then delivers this fresh food to over 80 charities and social organisations across the country. This supplements up to 12,000 meals every week. Thanks to their team of over 100 volunteers, they operate seven days a week, and they did a fantastic job of contributing towards the surplus lunch! There was loads of fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread and we were able to prepare so many containers full of fresh fruit salad, sandwiches, roast potatoes, veg sticks and dips, soup, pasta salad and more.
As a volunteer, I helped with the setup of the stand, including initial food prep in the kitchen at Lady Market Hall, assisted with the smooth running of the event by talking to visitors, serving and handing out food and cleaning up and taking down the site afterwards. (And, of course, I had an opportunity to taste the surplus food too, which was delicious!)
In addition to the ‘surplus’ aspect of the event, the organisers were trying to encourage people to think about what they eat, ideally raising awareness of using less meat and dairy products and wasting less food. The lunch we prepared was all vegetarian and made from food that would have otherwise been thrown away (apart from the pasta). I’m not personally a vegetarian, so volunteering for an event that was advocating reduced meat intake was definitely something new to me. I learned a lot of new information and it successfully raised my awareness of the environment impact that food and food waste have on the planet.
Currently, the average European lifestyle requires the resources of three planets. 43% of Oxfordshire’s ecological footprint is from food – that’s especially influenced because of the amount of meat and dairy products consumed. This is because our diets tend to be animal-product-heavy, especially meat and dairy. These types of products:
• Require a lot of land and resources to produce
• Generate large quantities of carbon and methane emissions
• Use a lot of freshwater
• Have a negative impact on biodiversity and wildlife on farms
Across the world, if Food Waste was a country, it would have the third largest carbon footprint. According to World Meat-Free Week, a company of 500 people going veggie for one meal saves:
The Global Warming Potential equivalent of driving a car 5,059 kilometres
The equivalent of 12 years of water use for 1 person
The daily recommended calories of 18 men
Now, I’m not a converted vegetarian or vegan as a result of the event but it has made me think about what I eat, what I waste and the part I play in climate change as an individual.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day out of the office to partake in a good cause and appreciate this benefit that HRW offers to its staff. I look forward to exploring another new volunteering opportunity next year!
By Bethan Crisp
*Facts and figures obtained from Oxford Green Week.