Food Waste: ‘Your half-eaten sandwich is not going to make it to people who need it’
by Karina Hanney Marrero
When refusing to eat my food as a child I remember my parents, with soft and ethically-loaded voices, telling me to think about all the children who have nothing to eat in the world. A scenario I’m sure most of you can relate to. While I don’t disagree with this simplistic statement, I feel it saddening to realise that not much has changed since I was five. In Western society production and consumption are at an all-time high but so is food waste. As representatives of the Zero Waste movement put it, we ‘simply toss edible food away.' Meanwhile, lack of basic provisions are still an unresolved concern for so much of the world, including our own society. Perhaps we should consider consuming less, or reconsider how we make use of the waste we so relentlessly produce?
Skipping or dumpster diving has a significant role within Zero Waste movements. Skipping focuses on eradicating food waste by sourcing supermarkets, restaurants, bistros, bakeries, konditories and other food establishments dumpsters for edible food. In their article ‘Food Waste: The Next Food Revolution’, Jesse Hirsch and Reyhan Harmanci give an up-to-date outline on the progress of food waste and ask their readers weather ‘instead of turning our food system inside out to meet that 2050 deadline, why don’t we simply waste less?'
Food waste and consumerism go hand in hand. Consumers are largely preoccupied with getting what they want, when they want. Demand is constant, with 24-hour shops, customer tantrums at the register, and overflowing dumpsters baring witness to production excess. ‘The environmental toll for throwing away so much uneaten food is also costly. Of the millions of tons that we waste in America each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 96 percent ends up in landfills. And currently, food waste is the number one material taking up landfill space, more than paper or plastic.' With this in mind, it might appear that environmental concerns should constrain our approach to global hunger, asking that we decrease food production rather than expand it.
Zero Waste movements encourage us to recognize a mutually compatible strategy through skipping or dumpster-diving. In relation to everyday protest, the practice involves a great deal of dedication and doesn’t often properly meet people’s needs. Participants will sort through food in the night when the dumpsters are full as well as to avoid dedication, only to find random things they may not need: spoiled milk, a kilo of aubergine, 37 packets of fresh egg pasta. (Pasta milk pudding with aubergine, perhaps?) So, skipping has its practical and sanitary challenges. But making do with less can be a real opportunity to rethink one’s consumption behaviour. In the film Skipping Waste, one of the skippers comments, ‘It’s like finding a treasure! You have no idea what you are going to find. Sometimes nothing at all, and at the same time when you don’t find anything you’re happy because it means that the shop hasn’t thrown anything out. But when you do find stuff, you’re happy to because you’ve found something to eat and that’s cool too.'
Early on in the same film, an interviewee reports that “in the UK alone 17 million tonnes of food are sent to landfill as waste per year. Worth over 20 billion pounds, this would be enough to feed 150 million people annually.' One of the main arguments behind increasing the production of genetically modified food is that the urgency and prevalence of global hunger demands it. Without necessarily denying this to be the case, Skipping Waste and the articles mentioned also remind us of the significant environmental issues emanating from industrial food production and waste, and underline the importance of making better use of the current supply of edible goods.
While doing research on this topic I found it very interesting that skippers had actually open-sourced skipping by establishing an online site called Trashwiki. This site lists information on good dumpsters sites worldwide. In this way skipping becomes a communal approach, and sharing knowledge on the matter seems a natural process.
‘Your half-eaten sandwich is not going to make it to people who need it’. But by making better use of the food that you do buy, you can prevent it from becoming a landfill and slow down the wheel of excess production.
2 For further info on the subject svisit http://aestheticsofprotest.org/zero-waste-movement-2/
4The authors here refer to the Feed the World campaign, prompted by the European Parliament in 2013. For furtther info on the subject visit: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/cms/home/events/workshops/feeding
7http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52A7wuz_3HE / ”5,23 – 5.39 (15.3.2014)
9Just this weekend David Cameron is found lobbying for further expansion of genetically modified crops. See: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/14/scrap-dysfunctional-gm-regulations-uk-government-science-advisers-food (14.3.2014)