There is something morally bankrupt about wasting perfectly edible food.
Then there are the unwieldy and complex workings of the global supply system: to get from its source to our plates, much of the food we eat undertakes a journey of epic proportions, involving carts, ships, planes and lorries, warehouses, processing plants and supermarket distribution centres. At each stage of this journey – inevitably, perhaps – a proportion gets wasted. When all this is added together, Stuart says, it is possible to estimate that more than a third of global food supplies is wasted (with the proportion in rich countries being as much as 50%). At the same time, nearly a billion people on the planet live close to starvation.
Earlier this month, Stuart invited me to accompany him on one of his freeganing expeditions in Sussex.
First stop is a small branch of Sainsbury's, whose bins are located in a yard enclosed by a wooden fence. With a practised hand, Stuart reaches through a gap in the fence and unslides the lock on the door. He opens up one of the bins and picks out a clear plastic sack containing roughly a dozen one-pint cartons of milk – all still within their use-by dates – and a pack of custard doughnuts. "Perfect!" he says. "I can make cottage cheese."
Next we drive to Waitrose, which is where Stuart says that he gets most of his groceries. "You tend to find lots of fresh fruit and vegetables here – plenty of organic stuff." Before we can get to its six bins, however, we have to wait for a home delivery van to finish loading, and while this is happening Stuart walks me to a nearby Morrison's, whose padlocked bins are concealed behind a metal gate crowned by vicious, freegan-repelling spikes. "More and more supermarkets are shutting away their rubbish like this," he explains.
Back at Waitrose, with the van gone, Stuart sets about investigating the bins. Four are empty, one is half full and another is stuffed to the brim with white binbags. He starts opening these up, standing on his toes and leaning right into the bin to do so. Inside are all manner of edible-looking goodies: sacks of bread, packets of bagels and chocolate doughnuts, endless yoghurts, cartons of soup, individually wrapped pizzas and packets of pre-sliced ham. Most items are within their use-by dates, in some cases by several days.
As Stuart rifles, I help hold the lid open and add his selections to a shopping basket. In 10 minutes, it is full and we have another binbag's worth of fruit and vegetables. Our haul includes two cartons of Duchy Original organic soup ("Prince Charles would hate to see these wasted"), a loaf of bread ("I can make breadcrumbs"), celery, carrots and new potatoes, a punnet of juicy-looking strawberries and some cherry tomatoes ("Look at those. They're perfect. Bin ripened!").
23 July 2009
I've previously written about wasting food. The Guardian published an excellent article about freeganism and Tristram Stuart, a campaigner against food waste. Excerpt