Food hub tackles issues of waste and want

Minister Michael Creed officially launching FoodCloud's Galway Hub. PHOTOs: ANDREW DOWNES, XPOSURE.
Minister Michael Creed officially launching FoodCloud's Galway Hub. PHOTOs: ANDREW DOWNES, XPOSURE.

Lifestyle – Co-founder and CEO of FoodCloud, Portumna woman Aoibheann O’Brien tells Judy Murphy how good food ends up in landfill and the work done by her organisation to end this practice.

Witnessing one of the country’s top chefs standing in a warehouse, ladling out free plates of food to guests is an unusual sight.  But the official opening of the FoodCloud Hub in Oranmore on Friday was ground-breaking in many ways.

What was being demonstrated was how an imaginative chef can take perfectly good ingredients that would otherwise be dumped to create fantastic and nutritious meals.

The chef was the award-winning Jess Murphy of Kai Restaurant on the city’s Sea Road, which is renowned for using seasonal, organic ingredients.

For Friday’s lunch, she made chicken and cheese pie, smoked salmon on baguettes, root vegetable curry and a beetroot salad with fresh herbs and sweet hummus.

Everything was created from ingredients that were unsuitable for sale in supermarkets, despite being perfectly fine and absolutely safe. These had all been donated to FoodCloud, a social enterprise that links food businesses and charities to minimise food waste.

And Jess was showing how Babybel cheese and tinned chicken, among other items, could be made into a meal that anyone would relish.

From floor to ceiling, the Oranmore warehouse is filled with pallets of cereals, tins of tomatoes, beans, peas, salmon, jars of jam and olives, crisps and an array of fare.

Via FoodCloud, these items, donated by supermarkets and food manufacturers, will be distributed to charities in Galway, Mayo, Clare, Offaly and Westmeath.

Charities that benefit from this network include Cope Galway, Saint Vincent de Paul and Dóchas don Óige, which works with homeless people.

All the food in the Oranmore Hub is safe and edible, but was destined for landfill because of the way our supply chain operates, explains FoodCloud CEO and co-founder Aoibheann O’Brien.

The ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date might mean that supermarkets won’t stock them, she adds. Or maybe some of the cereal boxes have been damaged. Other goods, such as sweets and crisps, are left over after Halloween – well within their use-by date.

“We have three warehouses in Ireland and our average intake per month is 80 tonnes of food that would otherwise go to waste,” she says as an example of FoodCloud’s impact on Ireland.

The Portumna woman, who graduated with a BA in Law and Accounting from the University of Limerick in 2007, began her professional career as an investment banker with JP Morgan in London.

It was in London that she became determined to take action on food waste, as “the issue was becoming very topical”.

For more,  read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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