Food waste is a global problem. In fact, we waste around 1/3 of the food we produce globally. This week, Scott and Tristram Stuart talk about the scale of the problem and what you can do to minimize this, as well as some of the regulations and what supermarkets are doing to combat this global scandal.
Tristram has always been interested in land at a young age. They grew vegetables at home. At the age of 4, he was already picking wild mushrooms by himself. As a teenager, he started keeping pigs and chicken. This was when he discovered the food waste issue. He began collecting waste food from his school’s kitchens as well as the bread from the local bakery, and the green market to feed to his pigs and chickens. Then he realized food waste is present at every single link in the food chain. So he started to live on the food others were throwing away. As a student, he was living like a king by getting good bread being thrown away. Ultimately, this became his lifelong obsession.
Being Made to Throw Away Food
Supermarkets, for example, order their employees to throw food away. Many of them find it demoralizing and that they’re trying to convince their bosses to donate the food and use it for something good. We have evolved in an environment of scarcity as humans. We didn’t have this kind of abundance. To throw away food is against millions of years in evolution.
Conversely, Tristram convinced Tesco to commit to donating 100% of their consumption of edible food to charities. And of all issues that Tesco has undertaken, this had the biggest effect on staff morale.
Check Out the Stats
At least a third of the food produced by humans go to waste and just imagine the impact of global hunger. There would be enough nutrition to lift all of the nearly one billion hungry people in the world out of hunger two times over.
But there are also some positive stats. In the UK, there was 21% reduction in the household food waste. This is equivalent to taking one in every four cars off the road in terms of environmental benefit. A huge environmental gain at zero cost so it’s a win-win solution.
How Change of Behavior Takes Place
There has been an econometric study on the causes of food waste reduction in the UK, some of it can be attributed to a period of price increases but it can’t explain all of the reduction. A good 40% to 50% can safely be attributed to raising the awareness of the public. In fact shows like those of Jamie Oliver’s are now tackling this topic. As awareness is raised, sensitivity is increased. Then peer-to-peer, you start to do the same.
Tristram actually started campaigning on this issue before any news articles or government policy, and nobody even wanted to talk about it. Governments around the world and the United Nations have now developed new laws and guidelines in helping companies and people reduce food waste. Tristram believes that as long as you get your arguments right and inspiring and positive, you can change the world.
Best Before and Use By Dates: How Do You Read Them?
Tristram admits many are still confused about these phrases despite the fact that the law has been in place in the last 30 years or so. But oftentimes, they still get it wrong. Even when the supermarket is telling you the food is still fine, people will still read that day and they’re going to throw it away thinking they’ll get poisoned. Hence, the public needs to understand those labels.
Secondly, those labels are hyper-cautious. The one thing that can destroy your company overnight is your brand on the news, being associated with a food poisoning incident. So you take every step you can to avoid that. So when companies calculate a date on their product, they imagine the worst possible scenarios, which can be directly misleading.
Tristram explains that a Used By date has something to do with food safety. A Best Before has nothing to do with food safety. Instead, it’s used for products that are going to be fine for a much longer period of time and don’t present any health risks to you. Hence, people are still throwing food when it’s still fine.
Moreover, your nose can be a good indicator in testing milk, for instance. Raw meat is not scary stuff since you’re going to cook it well. So the risks around it are very low. However, pay attention to cold meat products like a pork pie.
In Search of the Perfect Carrot and The Birth of the Wonky Veg Lines
Tristram explains the amount of wastage among farmer’s harvest as supermarket machines ditch imperfect-looking carrots when they’re actually still okay. And this is true across all produce. As a result, he wrote his book about this and to back it up, he fed 5,000 people for free with food that otherwise would have been wasted, which they did at Trafalgar Square in London in 2009.
One of their food and veggie suppliers came to the event and got a call from one of the supermarket’s customers and said if they found this to be true, they threatened to cancel their business with him. Months later, Tristram was talking to supermarket bosses about how to get ugly fruits and vegetables on to the market.
A Call to Change the Cosmetic Standards
The problem has not been solved, however, and so they’re constantly working to get those cosmetic standards changed and convince the supermarkets that people don’t mind if the produce don’t look the same, much less, people won’t even notice.
Tristram thinks it must come from the consumers themselves to drive this push. However, things are hidden so people accept it. For instance, in 2007-2008, when there was seemingly a shortage of potato due to a very wet summer that affected potato harvest, sales did not drop because there were still potatoes on the shelves. As it turned out, they were putting the imperfect-looking produce. People didn’t even notice because you’d have to be one of those machines to even tell that a potato doesn’t comply with the cosmetic standards. So why are supermarkets maintaining standards at that level?
The Sinister Element
Tristram reveals that there’s a sinister element to this. It serves their interest if farmers are growing excess year after year because if there’s really a bad year, the supermarkets don’t have to worry because they’ve covered their bases by making sure there’s always surplus in the market and so they don’t have to pay for the waste.
Avoiding Meat Waste
“Nose to tail eating” where you eat the whole animal, is part of the British gastronomic heritage. So this is something you can also do to avoid food waste. That said, for our own health and the earth’s, we should be eating less meat so our children can still enjoy diversity.
Stay Out of the Supermarkets!
Tristram finally recommends staying out of the supermarkets. Get really good sustainable food delivered to your door. Then you avoid that multi-billion dollar marketing exercise of getting you to buy more food than you need.
Tristram also founded a beverage company called Toast, where they upcycle bread and convert them into craft beer. So buy those and drink responsibly. All the profits go to charities combating environmental and social problems. What an easier way to contribute to solving the global food waste scandal than enjoying a beer with your friends!
- How Tristram connected with the physical world at a young age
- The level of food wastage in the world today
- Behavioral change through raising awareness
- How companies calculate their best before dates
- The birth of the Wonky Veg line in supermarkets
- A call to change the cosmetic standards of supermarkets
- How to avoid meat waste
- Why you need to stay out of the supermarket model
- Buy a Toast! Learn how you can get involved by enjoying a beer.
Quotes & Take-Aways
Food waste is a global problem. In fact, we waste around 1/3 of the food we produce globally.
That’s why we domesticated those animals to recycle food waste. But at every single link in the supply chain, we were wasting unimaginable quantities of food.
We’re growing all this food and we’re wasting so much of it. That is surely one of the things we can do better as a species.
There would be enough nutrition to lift all of the nearly one billion hungry people in the world out of hunger two times over.
When we feel our cultures have changed, then we change our behavior because no one wants to be judged.
By making it cool, inspiring, engaging, we’ve made the food waste movement go from geeky subculture… to something that is totally mainstream.
Used By date has something to do with food safety while a Best Before has nothing to do with food safety.
It makes no sense in the current state of the world to be wasting a third of our food. And wasting ugly veg which is perfectly fit for consumption is totally bonkers.
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