Tristram Stuart: leading the fight against food waste

Food and sustainability

Tristram Stuart: leading the fight against food waste

Tristram Stuart: leading the fight against food waste

An unflinching daily commitment and countless innovative ideas are key to the success of the initiatives created by the British activist with a firm belief that the best way to celebrate food is to stop throwing it away.

Born in the UK in 1977, Tristram Stuart developed his strident environmentalism from a young age, and has always fought against food waste. He is now the author of the best-selling book “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal”, and one of the leading activists committed to reducing food waste, which the BCFN vigorously supports. Indeed, the third food paradox described by the BCFN deals with this issue, and the first commitment made by the signatories of the Milan Protocol signed in 2015 is “to halve the current amount of food currently being wasted – over 1.3 million tonnes of edible food - by 2020”.

A tragic waste of resources
Tristram admits to having a very unusual hobby: the unofficial inspection of people’s rubbish. Indeed, his curiosity and passion for the cause led him (and continue to lead him) to rummage through bins and around the back of restaurants and supermarkets to understand what food is thrown away and in what amounts. “The richer a country is, the more it invests in filling its supermarkets and restaurants with food”, he explains, pointing out that an enormous quantity of perfectly edible food ends up being thrown away every day. There are many reasons for this, ranging from oversized portions in restaurants to the idea that only beautiful-looking food is worthy of a place on the supermarket shelf, and the food wasted at home when it is not properly stored. “Waste can be seen at every stage of the food supply chain”, argues Tristram, who describes in detail in his book each stage where food is lost. Some of the food grown doesn’t even reach our tables due to poor farming processes and conservation or because it is the ‘wrong’ shape or size and therefore doesn’t fit with the aesthetic standards of modern society. Moreover, a large proportion of crops are grown in order to feed animals to produce meat and dairy products. “Agriculture is one of the great successes of human history, but we need to realise that we are reaching the ecological limits which our planet simply cannot sustain”, he adds. “The production of food is the activity which has the single biggest impact on the environment: deforestation contributes to climate change and the loss of biodiversity, methane produced by livestock is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, nitrogen-based pesticides lead to the excessive production of algae in the oceans, intensive farming is depleting the soil and requires huge quantities and water, petrol and other sources of energy. The most obvious way to reduce our impact is to end food waste. Globally, we waste a third of the food we produce, and this is an enormous problem. And yet the solution is simple, enticing and promising: simply change the legislation on the use-by dates displayed on products, use products which are not necessarily aesthetically perfect and drink ‘Toast ale’, a beer made from surplus bread which donates all its profits to ‘Feedback’”. This is the name of a movement launched at global level by Stuart to campaign to change food labels in supermarkets.


Many initiatives for a common cause
How can we effectively combat the scandalous waste of food and resources which we are currently witnessing? The answer is disarmingly simple: by eating food rather than throwing it away. However, to convince people of this requires activists like Tristram to put their theories into practice on a daily basis and use facts to demonstrate that the solution to the paradox of food waste is within our reach. “By working together, we have the power to end this tragic waste of resources”, insists the Briton who organises various initiatives to raise people’s awareness about his noble cause.
Since 2009, one of the most noteworthy campaigns, Feeding the 5,000, has managed to achieve an extremely ambitious objective in a number of different cities: preparing 5,000 meals without buying any food, but only using food which would have been thrown away. This hugely successful event involves the entire community at various levels: from the producers, to the shopkeepers and restaurant owners offering food, to people lending a hand to prepare meals, to the general public committing to reduce the food they waste and appealing to governments and institutions to do the same.
“It is impossible to create a world with absolutely no food waste, but it is feasible to use this surplus food in an intelligent way”, Tristram believes. For instance, to feed animals (and especially pigs, as advocated in the campaign Pig Idea), thus avoiding the waste of land, grain and water and limiting greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere.
And what about all those vegetables which are left in the fields? The answer comes from the Gleaning Network, a group which coordinates volunteers who work to salvage tonnes of fruit and vegetables which would otherwise be thrown away every year. “The idea started in the UK, but then spread through Europe and we hope to see even more countries take part”, said its creator.

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