Tuesday, April 22, 2014

1392. Book Review: Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal

By Linda Christmas, The Telegraph, July 16, 2009

Tristam Stuart’s exceptional book describes the hideous problem of food waste. The average UK household bins £8 of food each week and supermarket profligacy fills him with contempt. Instead of leaving the reader feeling impotent and gloomy, he offers a list of improvements from one end of the food chain to the other: from farmers through food producers, supermarkets and restaurants to consumers and governments. His action plan at the end of the book leaves the reader feeling that solutions, though not easy, are possible – and that such solutions could aid those facing famine and help Britain to meet international targets on climate change. Waste is an uplifting book.

It is also brave. Stuart has produced, for the first time, a league table of the amount of food waste generated by supermarkets. He does this by foraging through scant data, carefully explaining his methodology, and then states that if he’s got something wrong it is merely an argument for making the supermarkets release more accurate and complete data. “The Co-op is the best performing supermarket, 27 per cent more efficient than average. Sainsbury’s is the worst, apparently 14 per cent more wasteful than the average and 55 per cent worse than the Co-op. Morrisons and Tesco are about average and Waitrose and Asda are slightly more wasteful than average and around 47 per cent worse than the Co-op.”

The Co-op heads the list because it resists the temptation to overstock for the sake of a bountiful display. My local Co-op has scantily filled shelves and now that I know that this is part of their attempt to cut waste I shall applaud their less than laden shelves. Furthermore, the Co-op group has a policy for reducing the price of products near the sell-by date. Most supermarkets do this to some extent but none as much as they could. Similarly, most supermarkets donate surplus food to redistribution charities such as FareShare who then pass them to community centres and homeless shelters. Stuart feels they could give more and further reduce the tonnage going to landfill.

Stuart is concerned by the amount of food that ends up in landfill because the waste releases methane, a relatively damaging greenhouse gas. No food goes to landfill in South Korea and Taiwan. Those countries think we are mad. They feed their food waste to pigs. We did that until 2001 when the practice was banned by Britain and the EU after the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease that originated in a farm feeding swill to pigs. The farmer had not been observing the law and boiling the food waste to get rid of the pathogens. Stuart suggests that a temporary ban would have been enough, followed by stricter enforcement of sterilisation procedures. Instead the ban remains. Pig farmers are now going out of business because they have to use expensive feed instead of cheap swill.

Stuart admires the “Islands of Hope”, as he calls them – Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Their governments have chosen to make it mandatory for food businesses to reduce waste by 66 per cent. He would like to see the same policy here. Our Government prefers to nag the consumer and seek voluntary deals with businesses. Last month, after this book was completed, the Environment Secretary announced new initiatives to boost the Government’s “War on Waste”. These include proposals to increase alternatives to landfill, produce new packaging sizes to cater for the increasing numbers who live alone and to rethink “best before” and “sell by” labels which are a guarantee of quality rather than a guide to food safety.

Food waste is hardly a new issue. In recent years there has been widespread media coverage, but bite-sized articles and one-off programmes can be confusing or rejected as hype. This book offers a rigorous – there are 67 pages of endnotes and 48 pages of bibliography – and accessible A to Z of the issues and its author is so passionate about the subject that he motivates the reader to want to do something to help. Few of us will follow Stuart and become “freegans”, rummaging through the black sacks at supermarket backdoors and feasting on their cast-offs, and we will ignore his suggestion that if we don’t eat crusts we should not eat bread. None the less, each of us could easily buy less and not feel like cheapskates as we reach for the marked down items. We are helping and the financial climate invites us to be thrifty both as individuals and as a country.

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By Tristram Stuart, TED.com, 2012

Western countries waste up to half of their food. This is an injustice Tristram Stuart has dedicated his career to fixing. In his newest book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, Tristram shows how changing the systems that result in food waste could be one of the simplest ways to reduce pressure on the environment.

The winner of the international environmental award The Sophie Prize in 2011, Tristram is the founder of Feeding the 5000, a consciousness raising campaign where 5000 members of the public are given a free lunch using only ingredients that otherwise would have been wasted. Held in Trafalgar Square in 2009 and 2011, the event has also been held internationally.

In addition, Tristram works with a range of NGOs, governments, and private enterprises to tackle the global food waste scandal.

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