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WASTE by Tristram Stuart


Uncovering the Global Food Scandal

by Tristram Stuart

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-393-06836-8
Publisher: Norton

A useful account of how we waste food.

British author Stuart (The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times, 2007) knows firsthand that in one day a supermarket in a major city can throw out enough food to feed 100 people. A practitioner of the anti-consumerist “freegan” lifestyle, he has salvaged discarded, unspoiled food from store dumpsters in many countries. Here he shows how developed nations treat food as a “disposable commodity” at every step of the journey from farm to dinner table. In the United States alone, “around 50 per cent of all food is wasted.” Farmers discard misshapen produce; fishermen throw back fish that are too small or the wrong species (killing most in the process). Supermarkets overstock to keep their shelves full and ensure they always have shoppers’ favorite products; others simply predict sales badly. Consumers overbuy out of a “primeval hoarding instinct” and discard about one quarter of their food purchases in the form of leftovers or unopened packages. If all the waste stopped, Stuart argues, it would free up food for the world’s hungry and reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture that contribute to global warming. The global impact is such that the UN has called for a halving of food waste by 2025. Thus far, few governments and industries have acted. Drawing on interviews and travels in many countries, the author explores diverse aspects of the global food problem, including the effects of growing wasted food on the earth’s water, land and other resources, and the post-harvest losses of food in developing countries that occur for lack of processing and other technologies. Arguing that much waste is avoidable, Stuart outlines numerous steps than can be taken, from more mindful shopping by affluent consumers to redistribution of supermarket surpluses to the poor. He finds models for action in several Asian nations, including Japan, where the concept of mottaiai, which condemns waste, is reflected in a 2001 law requiring food businesses to recycle their food waste.

Occasionally rambling but rewarding reading on a worldwide crisis.