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Overview of “WASTE: Uncovering the global food scandal”.

Tristram Stuart received vast support from a whole host of the academic, food industry, and scientific experts when compiling his book “WASTE: Uncovering the global food scandal”. His book tells of his enormous and inspiring commitment, to addressing and creating much-needed awareness on this vital issue. Stuart’s historical account, of how he became aware of the food waste issue, makes him very relatable. The stories and scenarios used by him, paint an ugly picture of ignorance, greed, and bully-boy tactics, both as interesting as it is horrifying. As Stuart contests:

By buying more food than we are going to eat, the industrialized world devours land and resources that could otherwise be used to feed the world’s poor. There are nearly a billion undernourished people in the world- but all of them could be fed with just a fraction of the food that rich countries throw away

This book takes its reader on a journey of interconnectivity, between food profligacy and food poverty – whilst environmental activists, such as Greta Thunberg, remind us all about our personal responsibility, and the part we all play in looking after our global environment. Stuart reminds us of the part Consumers, Retailers, Manufacturers, and Agriculture play in the proliferation of food waste, and the shockingly devastating knock-on effects on our global environment. Tristram Stuart, whilst carrying out research for this book, travelled extensively to get a global understanding of attitudes towards food waste.

It is interesting to note, that whilst some cultures view food waste as a sign of hospitality, others view it as very much a taboo.

Undoubtedly even the poorest nations still have waste, but at least their lack of resources and technologies provide them with an adequate excuse for not dealing with the issue of waste in a responsible way. However, in the Western Hemisphere, we really have no excuse, and it can only be viewed as deliberate waste.

Stuart pulls no punches in telling his readers about the lack of consumer concern, the corrupt practices involved, and the ongoing secrecy which exists within the food industry itself. As well as offering useful and practical suggestions for how the issue of food waste can be resolved.

Who is really to blame for this food waste scandal? And what is the solution?

As Tristram Stuart suggests:

Industrialized nations need to learn what it means to live in scarcity- because the appearance of infinite abundance is an illusion.

As Stuart makes very clear, consumers are very much conned by the myth of the sell-by use-by dates on foods that they buy. We as consumers are led to believe, that we risk food poisoning or worse. However, industry overcalculations and precautions mean that in most cases food will likely last longer.

It is interesting to note, that since Stuart’s book was published (in 2009), Supermarkets have started to address the issue of best by, and use by, dates (on some of their products). Therefore, change is starting to happen, although maybe not at a fast enough pace.

Yes, it is true that Manufacturing accounts for 2/3 of all food waste, and that they could be accused of not doing enough to address the problem.

It is, however, unfair to land all the blame and responsibility onto this industry. It is vital to understand the bully-boy tactics that are used by supermarkets. This affects the policies and processes under which the manufacturing industry operates. Supermarkets are literally dictating the terms by which they will do business with manufacturers.

Supermarkets policies and practices, according to Stuart, create inefficiency, and this ultimately leads to food waste.

Whilst there has been some attempt by supermarkets to address these issues, there are still further measures which could be taken. There are too many bureaucratic policies in the Agricultural industry, which forces them into inefficient practices, adding further to the food waste problem.

Of course, we as consumers could change our shopping habits.

We could grow our own food, or we could get food direct from local farmers, instead of relying so heavily on supermarkets. However, it would be far better for us to be realistic about this, and instead of seeking to induce the demise of the supermarkets, perhaps we need to accept that progress reversal is something that is neither possible nor desirable.

Instead, it is vital that people’s attitudes to food are changed, through an awareness of the reality of food wastage, and through us all viewing food as a necessity and not a mere a commodity. But also, we as consumers need to land some blame fairly and squarely on the industries that are further up the food supply chain.

The food industry needs to abolish this competitive fear that they have, and start being more transparent about the reality of food waste.

Final thoughts

There is a real need for unnecessarily bureaucratic food regulations to be abolished, for supermarkets to start sharing best practices, and for them to work together to resolve the issue of food waste.

Manufacturers need to get a backbone and learn to stand up for what is right, to change their processes and practices to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly model.  Thus, stopping themselves from being the industry that has the lion’s share of this food waste.

When thinking of the part that agriculture plays in this, I am reminded of the Common Agricultural Policy (C.A.P) and EU rural development reforms. Primarily, the important work they do when chairing debates on sustainable and environmental impacts on food management, and the propensity for this to help reduce food waste.

Although it is manufacturers and consumers who bear the economic brunt of this prolific food waste issue, ultimately nature bears the environmental cost of this avoidable misdemeanour.

When we see the freak weather and the oh-so-stark warnings of the climate crisis that is impending, we cannot afford to ignore the problem of food waste.

Published by Karen Burns

A 50-year-old mother of 3. Graduated from Warwick University in 2021 (with a degree in Social Studies). I have chronic illness, which affects my mobility. However, I love writing and I am a prolific writer of poetry as well.

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