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Food poverty: Accounting for waste


Management accountant and Great British Bake Off (GBBO) star Makbul Patel analyses the social injustices of food poverty around the world and explores how accountancy can help.

14th Sep 2021
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Away from baking and being an international A-list celebrity (ahem!) is my love of history. Museums, galleries, and ancient sites all have a hold on my heart.

The reason humanity lived as it did intrigues me; the rise and fall of empires, murderous kings, insane leaders and all the quirks of human personality history has preserved, all waiting to be reimagined and commented on. The British Empire changed the face of the Earth with its enlightenment, industrial strength and scientific discovery. Its military might forged an empire on which the sun never set.

Empires also need accountants to keep a check on the bottom line. Whilst it is all well and good the wealth of the nation swelled, the process left a population crushed into working in intolerable conditions. The cruelty the working class suffered has been well documented. Men, women and children were left at the mercy of the industrialists whose primary motive was greed. There have also been examples of enlightened industrialists who sought to make life better for their workers, but the Industrial Revolution was oiled with the blood and sweat of the workers (apologies for that ghastly metaphor).

In this age of a more responsible, enlightened approach in enterprise, accountants have a role to play in focusing on eliminating injustice. Human life is sacred. Regardless, within the industry we work in, an emphasis must also be made on measuring and combating injustice and oppression. It should be meaningful rather than a marketing stunt. Many organisations have steered in this direction. However, we have a long way to go to eliminate injustice.

World food poverty

World hunger chart
Makbul Patel

(Source: Food and Agriculture, United Nations)

Food poverty is subjective, but a clear definition has to be made in order to chart the numbers. In this case, world hunger is defined as follows*:

  • The distress associated with lack of food. The threshold for food deprivation, or undernourishment, is fewer than 1,800 calories per day.
  • Deficiencies in energy, protein, and/or essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Inadequate availability and access to enough safe and nutritious food to maintain an active and healthy life.

(*As defined by Action Against Hunger)

The chart is distressing as it represents people. As it stands, over 10% of the world’s population has food deprivation. These are all human lives that are suffering right now. We can stop reading this article, but the suffering continues.

World hunger stabilised in the mid-2010s but then there was an unsettling creep upwards. The pandemic compounded the issue. People lost jobs. Businesses failed. Workers suffered through illness. Families lost wage earners.

To bring all this talk of world hunger closer to home, the following chart demonstrates the UK’s food-bank usage. It is an area I am involved in. Together with project leaders, we raise funds for food bank projects on behalf of a community housing group. 

UK food parcel distribution chart
Makbul Patel

(Source: The Trussel Trust)

The problem of food poverty does not need further explanation.

This makes me think of my time on the run up to appearing on the Great British Bake Off. We were given all the recipes to develop and were lucky enough to receive most of the commonly used ingredients, flour, butter, sugar, eggs, chocolate etc.

One thing that isn’t broadcast is the obscene amount of food wastage. Entertainment has a cost. Recipes ruined. Cakes not rising as they should. Flavours not complementing each other. The icing not turning out quite the correct shade of blue. The baked result had only one destination - the bin. Piles and piles of food waste. There is only so much family members can eat. Even in the tent, most of everything we baked was thrown away. We have some deep thinking to do.

Accountancy has a responsibility to incorporate a social narrative into its reporting - a holistic approach if you will. Of course, even I understand that data reporting on topics such as world hunger is very much a broad and vague statistical take on social awareness.

However, it emphasises that the accountants’ skill in reporting can be adapted to many critical areas. For example, the firm I work for has planted itself in the community as a ‘responsible’ social housing landlord. These are some of the ways management accountancy reports on social issues:

  • Incidents of Antisocial behaviour (ASB) against the ASB cost centre costs
  • Number of people gaining meaningful employment through Community Hubs
  • Levels of non-decent* homes on the asset register and investment required

(*decent homes has a clear definition by the National Housing Association)

The shift in reporting on more critical issues besides P&L and the balance sheet has been an evolution. As management accountants, we have a part to play to enhance the focus on real lives and things that can be changed, which cries out for a need to have a connection with all areas of the organisation, from the top to the bottom.

Replies (1)

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By User deleted
20th Sep 2021 00:19

I love the way websites feel the need to elbow certain narratives into the mix.

Reminds me why I only visit very occasionally and that doing so convinces me that I should leave an even longer gap until next time.

To those who remain here - enjoy your woke articles about gender, inequality, climate change, covid and what not. Oh and about filing 23 MTD returns per client. Keep it.

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