So far, I’ve written a couple of posts on the food waste issue – trying to expose the frightening scale of the problem, its underlying causes as well as potential implications for our society and environment. I’ve also addressed a more specific issue of food squandering during festive seasons and touched upon some of the waste crimes implicated in the production of ethical food such as fair trade. Today I want to look at the range of solutions to which various actors – from producers, shops, and business enterprises to charities, activist movements, and individual campaigners – resort in order to combat food waste all along the food supply chain.
For an enjoyable and informative overview of the most telling anti food waste initiatives, I turned to the BBC Food Program (a brilliant series of Radio 4’s weekly episodes on all aspects of food). In the food waste episode, a longtime activist and the founder of Feeding the 5000 Tristram Stuart gives voice to the people who spare no time and efforts to prevent food squandering and put nutritious products destined for landfills to a better use. First, he introduces the Food for All organisation whose volunteers intercept good quality food on its way from supermarket shelves to waste bins and use it to cook delicious hot meals to feed the hungry all across London. He then goes all the way up the food supply chain and visits an apple and pear orchard in Kent which provides supermarkets and shops with fresh seasonal fruits. At the height of the harvest season, volunteers come here to collect all the fruits that pickers accidentally or deliberately (due to cosmetic defects) leave on the trees. They will donate the yield to the FairShare (worth looking up their Million Meal Appeal initiative run in partnership with the Sainsbury’s) which will redistribute it to charities fighting food poverty. Another place where unwanted food rarely goes to waste is the indoor market in Birmingham’s famous Bullring – volunteers of the Food Cycle activist charity come here at the end of each working day to collect leftovers and turn them into meals to be served at a community centre.
Turning attention from charities to businesses, Tristram presents two commercial initiatives which successfully transform food waste into a source of income. Rubies in the Rubble is an enterprise that produces a range of mouth-watering chutneys and jams from spare fruits and vegetables that would otherwise have been discarded by markets and farms. The Garden Cider Company collects surplus apples of all sorts and varieties to produce delicious cider with unique flavor. Thus, food waste is also an attractive and yet to be explored commercial niche. To show that industrial players are also beginning to play their part in the global food waste battle, the program highlights some of the restaurants and food shops that are prepared to go an extra mile to prevent food squandering.
The practice of recovering food from waste bins (or moments before it goes there) is known as freeganism, defined as “the philosophy of minimising impact on the environment by consuming food that has, quite literally, been thrown away” (Macmillan Online Dictionary, n.d.). In an ethnographic study of anti-consumerist subcultures, Edwards and Mercer (2007) bring specific examples of two freegan movements thriving in Australia – the Dumpster Divers, who enact the philosophy of freeganism by engaging in the procurement of food from supermarket bins, and Food Not Bombs, whose volunteers turn food leftovers donated by markets and shops into meals for the poor. Authors highlight the counter-culture character of the freegan movements, their deep ecological as well as social and political (anti-gluttony, anti-poverty and pro-equality) meanings. Using up of throwaway food is not merely a way of spending less or preventing adverse environmental impact of excessive waste, it is a “symbolic, political act against capitalist overproduction and waste” (Edward and Mercer, 2007, p. 282). It is about the de-commodification of food – taking the distribution of products out of supermarkets’ control and sharing it with those in need (Martell, 2014). Freeganism is also a form of simple living and is often practiced by downshifters – people who choose to opt-out of mainstream economic system, minimise their consumption, and forsake material possessions to live fuller lives. If you are interested to learn more about freegans’ lifestyles, reasoning and values, here is a couple of documentaries that I found insightful:
And if you can get access to Agnes Varda’s “The Gleaners and I” (2000) documentary, that is an absolute must-watch!
Freeganism. 2014. In Macmillandictionary.com.Retrieved May 28, 2014, from http://www.macmillandictionary.com/buzzword/entries/freegan.html
Martell, L. (2014, May 14). Alternative Societies [Online lecture]. Retrieved from http://www.sussex.ac.uk/newsandevents/sussexlectures/2014?lecture=117&fmt=youtube