You step your foot on the bin pedal. The metal lid clashes against your kitchen wall, jarring like an alarm. A loaf of bread or a broccoli head; both hang in the balance, caught between finger and thumb.
But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. For Tristram Stuart, uncovering the global food waste scandal began when he was 15 years old. He was living in Sussex and raised pigs to earn some extra pocket money, feeding them with leftover food scraps from his school kitchen and local shops. One day he was sat with his pigs and realised that the discarded sun-dried tomato loaf they were chomping through was good enough for anyone. He took a bite. He was right.
Fast forward a few years and Tristram is one of the world’s leading experts on the environmental and social impacts of food production, and founder of the food waste campaigning charity Feedback; confronting large businesses, exposing weaknesses in supply chains and changing the public perception of how we see food.
“Right the way up the food supply chain, in supermarkets, greengrocers, bakers, in our homes, in factories and farms, we are haemorrhaging out food. Mountains are wasted when it’s still fit for consumption.”
One third of the world’s food is wasted; that’s 1.3 billion tonnes per year, and enough to feed three billion people.
“Reducing food waste is one of the easiest and most feasible ways to reduce the environmental impact of our food system, whilst increasing food availability for those who need it most.”
“We believe that systemic change will only happen when society regards the wastage of food as unacceptable and demands change from business and governments. Over the past five years, the Feedback team has demonstrated the power of combining celebratory, mass-mobilisation events, campaigns, hard-hitting research and advocacy to change the way society views food waste” added Tristram.
The Stop Dumping Campaign aims to end unfair trading practices that lead to huge levels of food waste in the supply chain – and holding buyers and Governments accountable for the problem. People forget that food ordered in the UK but produced outside is just as much of a problem, even though it’s not on our doorstep.
“When you look at the end of the supply chain, you have farmers who don’t get paid because of cancelled orders, and towers of food which simply rots”
Tristram Stuart, Founder of Feedback
“Practices such as cancelling last minute orders, or rejecting food because of cosmetic standards are creating huge problems. We investigated supply chain waste in Kenya, Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and the UK and found that suppliers are forced to dump food because of these unfair policies of European and US supermarkets. When you look at the end of the supply chain, you have farmers who don’t get paid because of cancelled orders, and towers of food which simply rots.”
Feedback are committed to changing supplier practices for the better. One of their priorities is to strengthen ties with The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) which is empowered to hold retailers to account if they are found to be subjecting their suppliers to unfair trading practices. The next step for Feedback is to get the remit of the GCA extended to allow adjudication on issues between indirect suppliers and the supermarkets, meaning farmers working with middlemen have greater protection.
Whilst not perfect – there has been a positive response from the main offenders to the swelling pressure. In 2013, as a result of Feedback’s campaigning, Tesco released its third party audited food waste figures, and the biggest UK supermarket is still the only supermarket to be transparent about the food it throws away – but the UK’s leading retailers have worked together to reduce supermarket food waste by 20,000 tonnes in the past year – according to a report by the British Retail Consortium.
Changing attitudes are as important as changing laws. Is part of the problem that we don’t cherish food enough in the first place?
Barny Haughton of social enterprise Square Food Foundation, believes that our wasteful nature stems from our value system – and the need to reconnect with food, understand how to use it, and why it’s important to us.
“We need a democratic food culture. A good food culture which is shared by everybody.
Everything is more mechanised, from farm all the way to fork. Throughout all of those stages there is a greater disconnect with food; our relationship with food is getting more and more distant.”
Square Food Foundation is a community kitchen which introduces (or reintroduces) people to cooking – many of the people they support are children and people with learning disabilities. The Foundation also works with teachers and care leaders, helping to cultivate a bonded approach to food.
“Changing people’s habits and prejudices is a challenge – it’s about skills, nutrition, and has to be about taste – but wasting food today is easy and we tolerate it – we need to realise that systemic and personal food waste is not acceptable.”
Both Feedback and Square Food Foundation have eyes as big as their mouths.
Feeding the 5000 is a celebration event organised by Feedback where everyone is fed using food that would otherwise be discarded, such as gleaned products and supermarket surplus. The project has been taken worldwide, with Feeding the 5000 events taking place in Paris, Athens and NYC among others.
Square Food Foundation will be bringing a similar project to Bristol City Centre in 2017 – where thousands will be eating as part of a community kitchen.
These are just some of the events and organisers which are changing perceptions and food behaviours – and some of the best programs are being run in your area. All over the country, organisations like Fareshare are redistributing unsold food and trendy waste pop-up kitchens are appearing on our high streets. It won’t take long to find ways you can help your community eliminate the problem with an internet search engine.
It’s important to remember that waste isn’t waste until we label it as such and at home, we can all start by looking carefully at that dangling broccoli head, and keep closing the lid on food waste.
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