Covid and Food: Exceptional opportunities in unprecedented times

Blog by Blanca Peña-Méndez

Sustainable Merton Community Champion (Food Action Team) and Trustee

There is no doubt that many aspects of our lives have been affected by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, including food related behaviours. Significant weaknesses in our food supply system that started to show in the pre-lockdown weeks were highlighted in the months that followed. Most of us had to quickly adapt in order to bridge these gaps, and guarantee food access for ourselves and our families.

A food system that over relies on complex suppliers’ chains often managed by a handful of companies meant that individuals had very little choice in the way they procured food. The need for quick access to fresh products sparked an extraordinary number of grow-your-own followers. Home gardens, allotments, local farms… they have all flourished over the last eight months in urban and peri-urban areas. Mainly because of product shortage, but also because gardening was one of the few safe outdoors activities that people could carry out in the main cities during the spring of the lockdown.

Unfortunately, not everyone has been in a position to overcome the challenges around food access. Job losses and furloughs has meant that an increasing number of people aren’t able to afford food products, let alone, fresh healthy meals. Food banks across the UK have seen the demand for emergency food rocket. Almost 100,000 households received support from a food bank for the very first time between April and June this year. While last April, in the middle of the first lockdown, there was an increase of almost 90% in the number of food bank users in relation to 2019.

Community action has become one of the main pillars of the emergency food response plan. Sustainable Merton opened the first Community Fridge in the borough last May. Since then, Merton's Community Fridge, run by volunteers and stocked thanks to surplus food from businesses and community gardens, has redistributed over 6,000 kg of food. Equivalent to around 15,000 meals.