18 Jan 2024

Auckland charity Fair Food turns leftovers into lifesavers

From Summer Times, 9:10 am on 18 January 2024
Fair Food general manager Michelle Blau.

Photo: Supplied

With hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food going to landfills every year, one group is trying to stem the flow and convert that food into meals. 

Auckland charity Fair Food says it just ticked over 5 million meals provided by converting food waste since 2021. 

It has drivers go out and collect food that may not be fit for supermarket shelves or a surplus of an ingredient at a restaurant. That food goes back to Fair Food, where some 200 volunteers each month work to turn it into meals or ingredients. 

Avondale-based Fair Food, which launched in 2011, has 60 charities it works with to recycle the food back to those who need it, such as people in domestic violence shelters, transitional housing or families struggling to make ends meet. 

General manager Michelle Blau told Summer Times it was "crazy" how many people they have helped.

"Our drivers are on the road seven days a week. We go to pretty much every supermarket in Auckland every day. It could be a manufacturer who has too much of one ingredient, or we got a few tonnes of the inside of a pie where there was too much inside pie and not enough pastry crust.

"But it could also be home gardeners - if you're tired of the plums in your yard don't leave them on the ground, bring them to us. When you've found everyone on Earth who will take your food, we're still happy to get them."

Fair Food has 100 volunteers every week, picking through all the kai so only the "good stuff" gets handed out. It costs just $11 in operating costs for a week's worth of meals for a single person.

"It is either ready-to-go ingredients or cooked-from-scratch meals," she explained. "We have a test kitchen on site and our volunteers do cooking clubs and teach cooking skills while also making salads and couscous and soups, rice curries and just ready meals."

The volunteers are the "most diverse group of people you would ever encounter anywhere in Aotearoa", Blau said.

"We have folks who are retired nurses, and teachers who are used to giving back professionally and love the chance to sort of continue that kauapa.

"We have folks who are referred to us from psychological programs, mental health support, pre-employment - if you're facing a break in employment and trying to decide what to do next, volunteering is a great way to get back on your feet.

"We have a team from Supported Life - they're a group of folks with Down Syndrome who come and work in our kitchen once a week and are the highlight of our week every Tuesday.

"We have folks who don't talk but are perfectly great at sorting kai or helping out in the kitchen… and corporate teams, we had 178 different corporate teams last year. We're also a fun place for teams to get closer while they get their hands dirty."

Recently, however, the group's services have been needed more than ever.

"Before the rising cost of living, 7 percent of New Zealanders were going a day or longer without eating every single week because they had no access to food," Blau said. "Twenty percent of Kiwi kids live in homes where the food runs out sometimes or often, and again, those stats were pulled before the crisis that we're in now.

"So we've seen a real rise this year of support for families where the kid was shoplifting to have food for their siblings to bring to lunch at school, and working with schools where the kids are missing school chronically because they have no kai to bring, and that is not something that we saw in abundance in 2011."

If people could help out physically, Fair Food was happy to take donations, Blau said - whether that was money or food.

"We love homegrown, and if you like to cook or if you just want to learn a couple of tips in the kitchen or want to make some new friends, you're always welcome at our kai tables. We go seven days a week, so there is always a spot waiting for you and something to be sorted."