How much of the food you buy does not get thrown away? While we are not likely to pay much attention to the amount of food that goes into our garbage bins, Tristram Stuart has seen food waste and food loss on a large scale, and he has good reason to be alarmed: one-third of our food, globally speaking, gets thrown away. That would not be a big deal if it was actually recycled or fed to our livestock, but because stricter policies don’t support the practice of feeding food wastes to animals, we are left with [literally] tons of food contributing to our carbon emissions.
Tristram has no inhibitions in telling first-world countries about their responsibility to manufacture food with temperance. In the U.S., for instance, up to 50% of food supplies get thrown away, an insult to the millions of people starving in other parts of the world. We contribute to this issue, more than we realize, when we do not mind the things that we buy. Capitalists then feed this buying mania by manufacturing all sorts of products with “sell-by” and “consume-before” tags which are often exaggerated, according to people who have tried to defy packaging caveats. Word goes around that expiry dates of some products are not so accurate, leading consumers to throw away consumable food on the pretext of it being unsafe for consumption.
And then there are the supermarkets that pressure farmers to deliver only the finest produce. Food that comes short just gets discarded. In some cases, the middleman and grower take the brunt of the losses when their slightly-bigger [or smaller] harvests get snubbed by grocery sellers. The same is true with meat and poultry products.
How is it possible, in a world where poverty is so palpable, that there is excess on such a gargantuan scale? This is what Tristram Stuart had set out to study in the hopes of convincing people to become more conscientious of their buying practices, and turn the tables in favor of farmers and people who have little to eat.
Rummaging bins for food, not because of hunger but to show that there is more to our trash bins than garbage, is a brave act of defiance. Tristram is a realistic “freegan” in saying that he won’t stop attacking bins until food waste no longer exists. But, judging from the way people still discard food, that may still be a long way off. Another extraordinary thing about Tristram is that he is not giving up hope even though progress is slow. What matters is, they are able to push the issue on top of other pressing problems.
Of course, feeding 5,000 is an impressive feat!
A Teenager Realizing the Impact of Food Waste
Tristram Stuart was born in 1977 in Sussex where he spent his life as a bachelor. He was fortunate enough to belong to a family that valued resources. His grandmother, for instance, once apprehended him for almost throwing away a teabag. She was horrified and told the ten-year-old boy that he could not do that for a teabag he only used once.
That’s just one of Tristram’s unforgettable lectures concerning responsible consumption. When he was 15 years old, he thought of maintaining a pigpen to have more pocket money. He went around the neighborhood asking for food scraps from the school cafeteria and stale bread from bakeries. One morning, while he was sorting his pigs’ breakfast, he stumbled upon a type of organic bread with sun-dried tomatoes. He had been seeing that bread in his “collection” time and again, and got curious. So, he tore open the packaging and ate it.
He was surprised to find it delicious! Then the reality hit him; people had been throwing away so much food, and there he was feeding it to pigs when it was actually fit for human consumption. That was when he started being a “freegan.” Freeganism is simply a pun for eating food out of bins. It started in the 1960s, and has evolved into a practice to show disapproval for consumerism. Tristram had enough money to buy his own food, yet he ate from trash bins as a form of deviance to show that people are throwing away perfectly-good food.
“The Bloodless Revolution” and “Waste”
But his work did not end there; Tristram went on to complete his Master’s at the University of Cambridge. During that time, he delved into further study of how much food is being wasted. He published his first book, “The Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India,” in 2006. It was followed by “The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism From 1600 to Modern Times.” He would be most known, however, for his third book: “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.”
The book is a gripping account of how much food we are mindlessly throwing away. Imagine this:
“5.4 m The estimated number of tons of edible food British households throw away each year.
30m The number of malnourished people whose hunger could be alleviated by the bread British households bin each year.
84 The percentage of British households under the impression that they don't waste significant amounts of food.
43m The number of people at risk from food poverty in the EU.
923m The number of undernourished people in the world, according to a 2007 UN survey.
40% The estimated proportion of salad that British households throw away.
14bn The number of dollars of agricultural produce India wastes each year owing to its lack of infrastructure.
1.6m The estimated number of tons of food waste produced by British retailers each year.
59,625 Estimated amount in tons of food waste sent by Sainsbury's to landfill sites in 2007-8.” (SOURCE: The Guardian)
The book was a huge success not only because it sold well, but, more importantly, it changed people’s perspectives on consumption. The book won the “IACP Cookbook Award for Literary Food Writing” in 2009, while Tristram was awarded 100,000 dollars for winning the international environmental award, “The Sophie Prize.”
“Feeding the 5,000” and the “Pig Idea”
Tristram soon took freeganism to the next level and started “Feeding the 5,000.” The initiative was held in Trafalgar Square, where his volunteers helped cook lunch with foods that might have been thrown away; they also had fruit baskets for passers-by. “Feeding the 5,000” had been done twice, in 2009 and 2011, and has been practiced in other countries, as well.
The “Pig Idea” was born after Tristram and his friend Thomasina, a chef and restaurateur, considered raising pigs that were fed on discarded food. According to Tristram, not as much food would go to waste if more was fed to our livestock.
“Global Food Waste Scandal” TED Talk
Tristram shared his freegan journey in his TED talk and discussed how crucial the food issue is. He presented staggering facts about the amount of food that first-world countries throw away, in turn denying developing countries with starving people an equal share of the produce.
He left his audience with these words:
“For the sake of the planet we live on, for the sake of our children, for the sake of all the other organisms that share our planet with us, we are a terrestrial animal, and we depend on our land for food. At the moment, we are trashing our land to grow food that no one eats. Stop wasting food.” (SOURCE: TED Talks)
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Feeding the 5,000
- The Gleaning Network
- The Pig Idea
- The Pig Idea
- Think.Eat.Save Reduce your Foodprint
- Zero Hunger Challenge
- Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN)
- EU FUSIONS
- Food Security
- Food Waste Focus
- Giving Finalist's Forum
- SAVE FOOD
- Sustainable Food Trust
- United Nations Sustainable Development
- Waste Management & Recycling Professionals
- Waste Watch - Waste Less. Live More.
Awards and Achievements
- 2006: Published “The Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India”
- 2007: Published “The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times”
- 2009: Organized “Feeding the 5,000”
- 2009: Published “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal”
- 2009: “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal” won the “IACP Cookbook Award for Literary Food Writing”
- 2011: Won the international environmental award “The Sophie Prize” and the “Observer Food Monthly Outstanding Contribution Award”
- 2012: Presented a TEDx talk entitled “The Global Food Waste Scandal”
- 2014: Participated in the “We are Fed Up!” demonstrations
- Won the “Betha Wolferstan Rylands prize” and the “Graham Storey prize”
TED Talks (The global food waste scandal)
TED (Tristram Stuart)
TristramStuart.co.uk (Author Tristram Stuart)
TristramStuart.co.uk (Food Waste Facts)
Wikipedia (Tristram Stuart)
Feeding the 5000 (About Feeding the 5000)
Wikipedia (The Bloodless Revolution)
The Independent (How we met: Thomasina Miers & Tristram Stuart)
The Guardian (The scandal of Britain's free food)
The Guardian (Can vegetarians save the world?)
The Guardian (Food redistribution is a win-win solution for food waste)
The Telegraph (Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart: review)
LinkedIn (Tristram Stuart)
Project Syndicate (Food for All)
The Guardian (Observer Food Monthly Awards 2011 Outstanding Contribution Award: Tristram Stuart)
Robdale Works (Free lunches handed out to highlight food waste)
Afronline (Face-to-face interview on Food Waste in Africa)
Hot Spotting (Dustbin Dinner – Freeganism)
The Guardian (The freegans' creed: waste not, want not)