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How Youngsters Are Leading the Fight Against Food Poverty

Up to 4.3 million tonnes of surplus food is produced each year, but only 2% of that goes to charities to feed the hungry. Around 3.7 million tonnes of this is destroyed or burned. While the political pressure simmers, an army of young activists are striving to tackle these issues from the front line. Chief amongst them is Grace Jones, a 15-year-old campaigner from Croydon.

As we near 2015, hunger still remains an issue that affects thousands of our poorest families up and down the country.

Last week's Feeding Britain report into hidden food poverty unearthed the scale of the crisis and highlighted the staggering amount of food that we waste.

Up to 4.3million tonnes of surplus food is produced each year, but only 2% of that goes to charities to feed the hungry. Around 3.7million tonnes of this is destroyed or burned.

While the political pressure simmers, an army of young activists are striving to tackle these issues from the front line. Chief amongst them is Grace Jones, a 15-year-old campaigner from Croydon.

Grace, inspired by her experiences growing up, is working with the leading multinational foods manufacturer Unilever in a campaign branded Project Sunlight.

The initiative, launched in association with Oxfam, has brought together youngsters campaigning on a local level with leading industry figures to make steps towards eradicating food waste worldwide.

"I've been brought up to recycle, compost, finish my dinner, not impulse buy, and plan what food we need for the week so it was normal to me," says Grace.

"But looking at what other people do it became apparent that not everyone is as conscious as my family and I, and it made me think and realise what an impact that was having on society.

"Then as I got older and you realise the number of people that struggle to feed their family every day, you realise it is all connected to food waste, and it became a passionate area for me because it doesn't take much not to waste food and it only needs small changes - like planning ahead and freezing food. Plus it's something everyone can address and do."

The accomplished youngster is juggling her school work with an ongoing mission to raise awareness about food waste and food poverty in Britain.

She was recently chosen by Unilever to feature in the major television advertising campaign dubbed Bright Speeches, and in November Grace spoke at the Greater London Authority's Youth Ambassador Summit in City Hall before a crowd of 300 schoolchildren.

Aside from the media campaign, Unilever has launched the #ClearAPlate movement, which encourages people to share images of their empty plates. Unilever has so far donated half a million meals to families in need via their partner Oxfam, adding to the 2 million meals raised since its partnership with the charity was struck three years ago.

Jon Goldstone, a spokesperson for Unilever, said: "It was important to us that young people were given a voice as part of Project Sunlight because we know that children see a world of possibility in which sustainable living is commonplace.

"We wanted to give children like Grace the opportunity to speak out on an issue that mattered to them and empower them to take real world action."

Figures also claim we throw away 11,500 tonnes of food from our homes every day - which Grace says amounts to 24 meals per month or £700 per year. But why does society waste such huge amounts?

"I don't think wasting food is something that the average household does on purpose," she replies. "I think it's actually a lack of education and understanding about when food can and can't be eaten.

"We follow sell-by guidelines and believe that if it is a day post that date then it can't be eaten, which isn't always the case.

"We also live in a world of abundance and buying what we want to eat when we want it, which means we don't always plan our meals and use up the food in our fridge or cupboard, which then finds itself in the bin."

Food waste becomes especially pertinent as we near Christmas. Figures show that we tend to be more careless over the holiday season; whether we get too caught up in festivities, or whether we simply can't handle the amount we end up buying.

Again, Grace drew from her experiences at home, and her family's frugal Christmas policy.

"Christmas is a time for enjoying time with families and indulging a little, but so many of the great foods we enjoy over the festive period like turkey, parsnips, sprouts and potatoes taste great a few days later used in a curry or a soup. We just need to plan a little."

"What my mum always does is go Christmas shopping with a clear list of what meals will be over the Christmas period so that we create as little food waste as possible over the festive period - and that's what I would encourage other people to do."

She continued to explain the small steps we can all take in our daily lives to limit our food waste, mainly advocating that we put a little more impetus on forward planning.

"It's really just a case of being prepared and thinking ahead with your food planning, working out what meals you will have that week, freezing extra portions, etc, so you aren't wasting good food.

"In addition, I compost food waste that can't be helped, like banana skins, and make sure that the portions I eat aren't so big that I can't finish them. Also, if there is a supermarket deal on I ask my mum to buy the products but then give the second one to a food bank so that someone else can benefit."

The rise in the number of food banks that have been set up in recent years goes some way towards illustrating the scale of Britain's hidden hunger crisis.

According to the Trussell Trust, the number of people relying on the food banks has climbed exponentially in the last five years, with a near-trebling last year compared with the year before; 913,138 users in 2013/14 versus 346,992 in 2012/13.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called for a national drive to address both the the "astonishing" amount of food waste, and the hunger that yet "stalks large parts" of the country.

Short of drastic political action, however, the key to curbing the issue may lie in more people stepping up to support their local food banks, by offering to volunteer, or by donating spare items. Grace, herself, is hoping to set up a food bank in her local area of Coulsden using a grant from Unilver.

She places huge value on food banks, suggesting they "are a necessity in many people's everyday lives," but stressed that "we should also remove the stigma of having to lean on these types of facilities."

Asked whether she was optimistic about tackling these issues, Grace replied: "I think more people are become aware of the paradox between food poverty and food waste and I think recent statistics show more people are having to rely on food banks.

"But I think if as a country we make a conscious decision to address it on a personal and where possible wider level we can help improve the situation."

You can join Grace in the fight against hunger by reading into Project Sunlight, donating money to the #ClearAPlate drive, or even sparing a moment or two to volunteer at your local food bank over Christmas.

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