People forget food is about land, water, labour

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 03:16:47 AM

Producing food simply to dump it is a waste of land, water, energy required for growing, processing and transporting it. Tristram Stuart,author of the recently published book, Waste, Uncovering the Food Scandal, shows how the way we live has created a global food crisis and how simple it would be to fix it. Kaushik Das Gupta spoke to him over phone. Excerpts

-- Producing food simply to dump it is a waste of land, water, energy required for growing, processing and transporting it. Tristram Stuart,author of the recently published book, Waste, Uncovering the Food Scandal, shows how the way we live has created a global food crisis and how simple it would be to fix it. Kaushik Das Gupta spoke to him over phone. Excerpts

On the enormity of the problem

In Europe and North America up to half of the food produced is wasted. If you include cereals used as animal feed like wheat, soy and maize, America has nearly four times the food its population requires and Europe has three to four times. When rich countries waste millions of tonnes of food, we are unnecessarily taking it out of the world market. It has a direct effect on the ability of other parts of the world to buy food. But unlike most environmental problems, solving this does not involve great sacrifice. It's like saying when you buy food you should eat it.

On distribution problems

In Europe and North America, supermarkets and shops impose preposterous cosmetic criteria on fresh produce. For instance, carrots have to be perfectly straight, apples have to have the right colour. All this is not related to how good the food tastes or how nutritious it is.

Crops don't always grow perfectly. Some fresh crops are sent away as animal feed as they don't meet these ridiculous criteria. In Europe we waste half the fish we catch. Fishermen are forced to throw back the fish if they catch more than what is allowed. Supermarkets overstock as they want to show overabundance.

In developing countries like India and Pakistan, by contrast, most food waste is accidental. Thirty to forty per cent of food crops such as fresh fruit and vegetables are wasted, largely because of lack of infrastructure such as fruit crates, grain stores and cold storages in markets.

On moral issues

Because of urbanization, people are disconnected from food production. They don't connect that world's remaining forests are being destroyed to produce more food. People have forgotten food represents land, water and labour and that it is too valuable to waste. If we wasted less food, we would not have to destroy forests to create so much agricultural land.

On climate change and food waste.

In European countries about 20-30 per cent of emissions come from food processing--production of fertilizer, transporting food products to markets. If a third of this food is not eaten, about 10 per cent of the emissions are caused by wasted food. When we waste food we should realize the land it grows on could be used to grow forests which would reduce greenhouse gases.

On reasons for hope

For individuals, it's simple. Buy what you need and eat what you buy. But what to do with food waste? In South Korea and Japan food waste is fed to pigs and livestock but in Europe and many US states this is banned. We pay Brazilians to cut their rainforests and grow soy, then ship it to us across the Atlantic while we waste millions of tonnes of food.

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