Taste the Waste: Uncovering a crime against humanity and Nature

Opening the lid...

“How can we explain the fact that one sixth of humanity goes to bed hungry every night, when the world already produces enough food for all?

“The short answer is that there are serious anomalies in the distribution of food. Capricious and uncaring market forces prevent millions of people from having at least one decent meal a day, while others have an abundance of it. For the first time in history, the number of severely malnourished persons now equals the number suffering from over-consumption: about a billion each!”

That was the opening of an article on the future of food, co-authored by Sir Arthur Clarke and myself in 2000. It was circulated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to mark World Food Day that year, and was reproduced in 2008 in The Hindu newspaper, India.

Nearly a decade after we wrote those words, the situation hasn’t really improved. There still are a billion people for whom chronic hunger is a grim fact of life. About 25,000 people die of hunger every day. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the number of obese people has grown to 1.5 billion.

Talk about a world of contrast and disparity!

Here’s more shocking news: we routinely throw away half of all food produced in this world. Between plough and plate, or from farms to homes, we waste almost as much food as we eat.

Eyes Wide Shut?
Many countries don’t have the slightest idea how much is wasted. Britain made an effort to measure the waste pile and came to a staggering 15 million tons of food a year. This includes 484 million unopened tubs of yoghurt, 1.6 billion untouched apples, bananas worth £370 million and 2.6 billion slices of bread.

In his recent book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, Tristram Stuart documented the extent of waste in the food industry worldwide.

Taste the Waste is a new documentary film linked to an online campaign that shows us what is being thrown away: where, why, when and by whom.

The film maker turned campaigner, Valentin Thurn, has come up with one more reason why we should stem this callous waste: “Cutting food waste is an easy solution to reduce climate emissions and hunger,” he says.

Reducing food waste means a big opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – if we threw away only half of the avoidable waste, the consequences for the climate would be the same as taking one out of five cars off our roads.

It would also help the hungry, because they also depend on the global food cycle. Cash crops from all over the world are traded on the stock exchange. The agricultural resources on this planet are limited. The farmland taken up to produce the food that we throw away could instead be producing food for them.

Young activists protest against this situation by rescuing the wasted food. People eating rubbish – a habit that sounds disgusting until you see the loads of perfectly edible food in the bins of your supermarket or sandwich shop around the corner.

Thurn’s call to action: “We need your help! Go out, look around and tell us about the food in the bins where you live. Send texts, photos, videos, and help to reveal the huge scandal of how we are wasting food.”

Watch the film’s trailer on YouTube:

According to the latest FAO figures, there are more hungry people in the Asia Pacific (642 million) than all other regions combined. This is followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (265 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (53 million), and the Near East and North Africa (42 million). Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest percentages of people living in hunger, while the Middle East and North Africa saw the most rapid growth in the number of hungry people (13.5%) during 2008.

The UN’s definition of hunger is based on the number of calories consumed. Depending on the relative age and gender ratios of a given country, the cutoff varies between 1,600 and 2,000 calories a day.

Starting in 2008, activist groups worldwide observe 16 October as World Foodless Day. Their argument: World Food Day is a mockery and is much better named World Foodless Day.

It’s a day of global action on the crises that beleaguer the people. The objectives are to: “create public awareness and media attention on the root causes of the food crisis; provide policy recommendations and organize meetings with government officials, opinion makers and leaders; organise activities to raise our voices against neoliberal policies and their impact; and highlight people’s recommendations to respond to the world food crisis.”

Watch PAN-Asia Pacific’s video for World Foodless Day 2008:

Read an excellent review of Tristram Stuart’s book: Watching our wasteline, By Darryl D’Monte

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

4 thoughts on “Taste the Waste: Uncovering a crime against humanity and Nature”

  1. The World Food Conferences organized by UN FAO every few years are one of the biggest insults to the hug4ry people in this world. I have read how lavishly they wine and dine in Rome where these meetings are usually held. They are an affront to humanity.

  2. Poverty is something you can find in every country and under every type of political and economic system. This suggests to me that it tells us something about the human condition – i.e. we are greedy!

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