review: waste - uncovering the global food scandal

Submitted by MichaelE on Mon, 2010-08-02 20:33

waste: you are what you eat; but also what you wastewaste: you are what you eat; but also what you wasteThis is perhaps one of the most shocking books I have ever read. I know we live in an age that glorifies consumerism, but I had never really contemplated the waste that goes hand in hand with this mentality. Forget the fact that consumerism is the religion of the twenty first century, waste is our religion. One may wish that this was something out of science fiction, but its not.

Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal is one of the most important environmental books anyone can ever read. It shows you the inherent flaws in our current system. The book delineates the ways in which every action we take when we buy food has a huge effect, on world wastage, poverty, economics, deforestation and climate change. This book is meticulously researched with 68 pages of bibliography full of facts and figures. Yet the book is gripping. This is not some boring academic tome. Stuart compels you to read, like some horrific industrial thriller, and suddenly it hits you – this is reality. This is an incredibly sobering book.

What have you eaten for breakfast today? Toast? Think about it. Where did that bread come from? How much wheat was used to make it? How much water and land did it take to grow that wheat? Did you eat it all or did you throw some of it away? Stuart's argument is that we as consumers do not consider these questions and this has lead to many of the problems in our world today.

“There are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world, but the approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted by US households, retailers and food services each year would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them.”

“If we planted trees on land currently used to grow unnecessary surplus and wasted food, this would offset a theoretical maximum of 100% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

“A third of the world's entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste - or enough to feed 3 billion people; and this would still leave enough surplus for countries to provide their populations with 130 per cent of their nutritional requirements.”

These quotes speak for themselves. Stuart lays bare the problems behind our food production systems. Admittedly his figures are mostly based on US and UK figures. Supposedly in many of the developing countries, of which South Africa is one, use of food is much more economical and efficient. However, I think that if we were to investigate what a middle class family in South Africa binned, we would see many of the same problems. We may not be as bad as the UK and USA in terms of our waste, yet if we continue to follow their development model, we will be just as bad as them. We can also see the effects much more clearly, as we can see hungry people all around us. We need to take heed of his message and change the way we think about the food that we consume.

Stuart offers a plan of action at the end of his book, which includes some of the following points: firstly be more conscious about what your food choices are doing to the environment. Also reduce or stop your own food wastage. Take shopping lists with you when you shop and buy only what you need. Treat best before dates with scepticism, many supermarkets err on the side of caution and a lot of foods are still edible after their expiration date. (Be careful when doing this with meat though, and always make sure that it is thoroughly cooked.) You can teach your children to eat what is on their plate, so that they learn not to waste. You can use left overs for other meals, and kitchen waste to make compost for the garden. We can put pressure on supermarkets and governments to stop food wastage at production levels. There are many other small things that we can do to make a difference and if we do not, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal provokes anger and spurs one on to do something. If you read one book this year, make it this one. It will change the way that you eat and view the way you shop. There is a desperate need for us as humans worldwide to change our thinking and Waste gives a good indication as to how we should go about doing this.

Waste is available on

Waste is also available at Exclusive Books

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