The Global Food Waste Scandal

Through his struggle to demonstrate the extent of the food waste problem on a global scale, Tristram Stuart suggests that to find the true cause we must first look at ourselves. Over the last 12,000 years, human civilization has been able to increase global food production. This may seem like a great success story for humanity, but as we do so, we must realize that we are reaching the ecological limits that our planet can bear.

At the age of fifteen, Tristram first became concerned about the global food waste problem when he started feeding pigs that he bought in order to make extra money. When he started feeding them, he went about the most eco-friendly and traditional way he could think of; table scraps from his school kitchen, the local baker, and the grocery store. What he saw though was shocking. The supposed “table scraps” that he was given were often foods that were stale or oddly shaped and weren’t up to the grocery stores cosmetic standard, yet still edible. When Tristram asked the grocery stores about how much food they were wasting, they wouldn’t comment but it didn’t matter, he’d already seen the damage. Their garbage bins overflowing with food, and the trucks that were called to haul them off to landfills as waste. Surely there was a more sensible option for the food? And then it hit him one morning as he was feeding his pigs. After seeing what Tristram called a “particularly tasty-looking sun-dried tomato loaf,” he ate it for breakfast with his pigs. This action as he would later find out, is called Freeganism or the “exhibition of the injustice of food waste, and the provision of the solution to food waste” (Stuart, The Global Food Waste Scandal). To put it simply, people need to just sit down and eat food, rather than throwing it away.

After his first encounter with seeing the waste of food from just his community, Tristram set out to find the extent of this crisis on a global scale. During his TED Talk, Tristram shows the audience a graph of nation by nation, the breakdown of food waste in each country in the world. By taking the food supply of every country compared to the likely amount of food being consumed, Tristram was able to make an approximate guess of how much food is actually going into people’s mouths. In the middle of this graph is a bolded black line, that shows the “likely level of consumption with an allowance for certain levels of inevitable waste” (Stuart, The Global Food Waste Scandal). Any dot above that line, which is most of the countries in the world, represents the unnecessary surplus of food being made. In an article published by Stanford University, “roughly one third of globally produced food is wasted” (Briggs,2013). There is always going to be waste, but typically as a country gets richer such as most European and North American countries, they invest in getting more surplus in their stores. On the graph that Tristram presented, it showed these countries falling between the 150 and 200 percent range of the nutritional requirements for their populations. Essentially, showing that they have “twice as much food on their shop shelves and in its restaurants than is actually required to feed the people” (Stuart, The Global Food Waste Scandal). While the amount of people living on earth continues to grow, so does the amount of food that needs to be produced. If we were to take a look at where we were developmentally 12,000 years ago to now, the agricultural surpluses we’ve achieved could be seen as a success. And it is a success story, but at the rate that we are going our resources will be depleted, and our planet will have reached its ecological limits. Every day, forests are being cleared to provide farm land and water is being taken from already suffering water reserves, just so that we are able to grow more and more food. The amount of fossil fuel emissions from pastures for producing meat for our stores or our cars is wreaking havoc on our environment, when in reality the majority of the food is being thrown away or wasted. We need to start thinking about what we can save.

In an effort to tackle food waste, Tristram started an event called “Feeding the 5,000” which was organized in 2009 that has helped feed 5,000 people with food that would have been throw out or wasted. Since then this event has been held in London and all across the country in an effort to celebrate food instead of wasting it, as well as bring awareness to the global food waste epidemic. Humans depend on our land for food and other resources and unless we do something to start saving it, our planet will continue to deteriorate.

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