A couple of months ago a friend who works in catering asked me to meet her after a shift with the promise that she had something for me. It turned out to be a bag full of perfectly good sandwiches which, for food hygeine reasons, her boss had instructed her to throw away, but which she had rescued for our lunch. The sandwiches were fine to eat, and we ended up giving what we didn’t want to homeless people around Edinburgh, rather than see them go to waste.
That day perfectly highlighted two juxtaposing problems facing western society: excessive levels of waste, and extreme and widespread food poverty. It would seem that there is a simple solution here, or at the very least a way to combat the two issues. France has just passed a law that requires all supermarkets to donate excess food to charities and food banks, and if they do throw away or spoil it they will face penalties of up to € 75,000. This will make an enormous difference to the donations recieved by charities, who will suddenly be able to help so many more people.
It’s high time legislation of this kind was introduced in the UK. In 2012 7 million tonnes of food were thrown away in this country alone. As close to home as EUSA, boxes of sandwiches and cakes are chucked out instead of being donated, and if employees are caught taking this food they’re fired for ‘stealing’. Yes, some of this has gone bad, but the vast majority is good food which could be going to some of the millions of people who are homeless, starving, dependent on food banks to supplement what they can afford, the list goes on. What’s worse is that this edible food is often actively ruined, with bleach for example, to prevent people from retrieving it from bins and making use of it. It’s absolutely disgusting to consider that with so many children in this country living below the poverty line and with cuts still being made that disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society that corporations are deliberately ruining food that they are aware people make use of.
Is this a capitalist problem? Almost certainly. In our consumerist society we expect everything we buy, everything we eat, everything we drink to be absolutely perfect. As soon as a pre-made sandwich is past its nominal sell by date it is discarded because it no longer meets these high standards. Fruit and vegetables are thrown away by the boxful because they aren’t aesthetic enough to be sold in supermarkets; people simply won’t buy them. Adsa have begun selling ‘wonky veg’ boxes at bargain prices to make sure less of this veg is wasted. This is a great initiative and will hopefully remind people that we don’t eat fruit and vegetables for aesthetics. It boggles the mind that some people in this country are starving, whilst some refuse to buy a courgette because it isn’t straight enough.
Legislation of this kind is viable in the UK, the new French law has proved as much. The government currently has an ‘agreement’ with supermarkets to cut packaging and good waste, but many charities are now calling on the government to introduce something similar to the French law. This change cannot come fast enough. It’s a worrying illustration of how polarised our society has become that massive corporations can afford to absorb this much waste into their profit margins whilst millions starve.
Image credit: jbloom