[Reader-list] Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal

Kshmendra Kaul kshmendra2005 at yahoo.com
Thu Sep 17 17:43:44 IST 2009

Dear Jeebesh
The book would be worthwhile if it gives practicable suggestions on HOW TO prevent or put to good use the wasateges that otherwise take place in homes and commercial establishments.
Nothing in the review suggests that the book does so.

--- On Thu, 9/17/09, Jeebesh <jeebesh at sarai.net> wrote:

From: Jeebesh <jeebesh at sarai.net>
Subject: [Reader-list] Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal
To: "Sarai Reader-list" <reader-list at sarai.net>
Date: Thursday, September 17, 2009, 12:59 PM

dear All,

An exceptional book has been written by a friend based in London. He  
has been in Delhi for a long period earlier and is known to many  
people on this list. The book is called Waste and is based on detailed  
research for over many years.

Enclosing a review of the book.



Review by Fiona Harvey
Published: July 18 2009 01:41 | Last updated: July 18 2009 01:41
Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal
By Tristram Stuart
Penguin £9.99, 448 pages
FT Bookshop price: £7.99

Next time you pick up a lunchtime sandwich, take a moment to think  
about where it has come from. Think of the effort it took to grow the  
wheat for the bread, to feed the cows to make the cheese, to cultivate  
the salad from seed. Imagine if you took a few bites from it and  
simply threw the rest straight in the bin. And if you did that every  
day, with everything you ate.

Supermarkets and high-street sandwich chains regularly discard a  
quarter as many sandwiches as they sell. Most of that food is  
perfectly edible, but little of it is given away to the poor or  
homeless. Instead, it is destroyed and often sent to landfill.  
Meanwhile, 1bn people go hungry, in a globalised economy.

Consumers are no better. In the UK alone, according to government  
estimates, a third of the food we buy goes into the bin. The appalling  
amounts wasted in restaurants and fast food eateries is another story.  
Tristram Stuart’s Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal lays bare  
our wasteful habits, from the farm to shrinkwrapped supermarket  
packaging and beyond. Stuart, a freegan and environmental campaigner,  
has based his book on painstaking research carried out over several  
years of first-hand experience of foraging in supermarket bins, as  
well as interviews with company executives and trawls through the  
meagre data provided by governments and businesses.

The book, with 68 pages of detailed notes and 69 pages of  
bibliography, bristles with facts but points also to the huge gaps in  
our knowledge of waste. Most retailers, for instance, prefer not to  
say how much food they waste, regarding it as a trade secret. Giving  
it away would put them at a competitive disadvantage, they tell Stuart.

Waste is certainly one of the most important environmental books to  
come out in years. But it is more than that. It is an indictment of  
our consumer culture that should make us all feel deeply ashamed. The  
scale of our food waste problem – and its effect on the developing  
world – revealed in this book will leave you shocked. And, the author  
hopes, demanding change.

Avoiding the unnecessary wasting of food is deeply ingrained in most  
cultures. “Your eyes are bigger than your belly” was how children who  
helped themselves to more than they could eat were scolded in the  
Belfast of my childhood. Those who failed to finish, or gorged  
themselves on too much, would be reminded first of the starving  
children in Africa then, for good measure, of the Irish famine of the  

.. . .

We need not go back so far to discover raw memories of food shortages.  
Rationing during the second world war and early 1950s left its mark on  
British life for decades, and famines during and following the war  
scarred Europe and parts of Asia. In the past two decades, we have  
seen famines in Africa roll horrifically across our television screens.

Human societies have found ingenious ways to eke out our valuable food  
resources: to store, pickle and preserve; to find uses for byproducts;  
to fatten animals on scraps; and even to burn or distil the last  
residues. Much of our cultural heritage is defined by what we eat. As  
Stuart reminds us in his chapter-heading – quotations from the Bible,  
Koran and folk sayings – we have evolved elaborate rules and customs  
that embody the imperative to use food efficiently.

Yet our culture of thrift, built up over millennia, seems to have  
broken down within a few decades into a culture of carelessness. The  
food wasted each day in the UK and the US alone would be enough to  
alleviate the hunger of 1.5bn people – more than the global number of  
malnourished. How did this happen?

Retailers must shoulder a large part of the blame. The illusion of  
plenty they like to foster, by constantly refilling shelves and  
ensuring there is always more food than can be bought in a day, comes  
in for an excoriating attack. These practices, in turn, force  
suppliers to overproduce for fear that if the retailer runs out of a  
product, they will be held to blame.

If this sounds like poor economics, it isn’t. Food has become so cheap  
in most developed countries that retailers make more profit from  
selling one more sandwich than they lose from throwing it in the bin  
if it remains unsold. So overstacking the shelves is a no-brainer.

Food producers play along because they need to keep their contracts  
with retailers, and they incorporate the cost of waste into their  

Stuart records seeing stacks of ready-meals, metres high, being  
crushed at a food producer’s plant instead of being sold. They had not  
even passed their sell-by date – it was just that the retailer decided  
it did not need so many. They were retailer branded, so could not be  
sold elsewhere. The edible food had to be landfilled.

Red tape does not help. Confusion over best-before, sell-by and  
display-by dates causes massive waste of edible food. So did the over- 
regulation, until recently, of food sizes and shapes by the European  
Union. As a result of a knee-jerk reaction by the UK government after  
the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001, food scraps from school  
kitchens and the like cannot even be given to pigs as swill.

Stuart catalogues appalling waste all through the food supply chain:  
the farmer whose tasty, blemish-free carrots are only deemed fit to  
feed animals because they are a mite too bendy to be sold in  
supermarkets, which assume buyers can only cope with straight veg;  
retail chains that padlock their bins or deliberately spoil the edible  
contents, for fear their customers will forage in them; consumers who  
fall for buy-one-get-one-free offers to buy food they will not eat.

Wasting food in rich countries cannot be seen in a vacuum. It has a  
disastrous effect on the poor. Cheap food is an illusion – the  
pressure on agricultural land for people to feed themselves and  
produce for export markets is causing widespread deforestation in the  
Amazon, south-east Asia and Africa, and soil degradation across the  
world. Our careless waste pushes up prices for globalised commodities  
such as grain and rice, forcing poor people to go hungry or beggar  

This book exposes all of these effects clearly, logically and  
readably. It made me more angry than any book I have read for a long  

Fiona Harvey is the FT’s environment corresponden
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