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“We need to stop companies from spoiling us”

Words: Johanna Kinnock and Maria Jencel

Photos courtesy of Tristram Stuart
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In the latest edition of the 5 Podcast, we hear from one of the superstars of the fight against food waste. How can we fix this colossal problem?

Tristram Stuart was a food waste pioneer long before it was cool.

“I was keeping pigs and chickens in Sussex. I was a schoolboy, and I realised that it was much cheaper, as well as environmentally more sustainable, to use food that was being wasted rather than to go to the animal food store,” he says. “So I started collecting leftover bread from the local baker, leftover greens from the market in town, and all of the scraps from my school kitchen.

Tristram came to see that, already back then, we were wasting a colossal amount of food everywhere in the supply chain. Then he realised that this food was perfectly good for humans to eat too – not just pigs. “I actually started eating these organic foods with my pigs,” he says.

“We can use the food system to undo the environmental problems we are creating”

Tristram Stuart

Today Tristram is a leading figure in the fight against food waste (his TED Talk on the topic has racked up more than a million views). We spoke to him for the latest edition of the 5 Podcast. The first thing to discover is how big a problem food waste actually is. Has it perhaps been a little exaggerated? The answer is a definite no.

“Food is the biggest problem we have,” says Tristram. “It is the single biggest negative impact that humans have on the environment. The main reason for that is because we transform the surface of the earth into fields to grow food for our own consumption, and that means removing the forests and all the other creatures and plants that were there before.

“On top of that nearly a billion people in the world don’t have enough food to eat. And at the same time nearly two billion people eat too much for their own health as well as the health of the planet,” Tristram explains – and all this is before we even get on to the issue of waste. “We waste around a third of the world’s food supply,” he says. “And when you think of the environmental burden and the hungry people – that figure is just shocking and absurd.” 

Considering the scale of the changes required, is tackling food waste a lost cause? No, says Tristram – far from it.

“I believe we can transform the food system. I believe we can turn our biggest problem into the biggest and most powerful solution of bringing people together to nourish humans as well as to restore the earth. You can actually grow food in a way that restores habitats. We can use the food system to undo the environmental problems that we are creating.” 

When asked if we have become “spoiled” in our attitude to food, Tristram says yes, and follows up with his own question: “Who is it who is actively and deliberately, on a day to day basis, spoiling us? The corporations – above all – are the ones doing the spoiling. They are spending billions of dollars marketing food to us that we don’t need and which is bad for our health.”

The solution, he believes, lies in people coming together to push for changes to the law. 

“As active citizens we give our governments mandates to pass laws that say, you can’t do that anymore, stop it. That is the solution. We need to stop the companies from spoiling us.”

To hear the full interview with Tristram – and find out about how much we waste in our own lives – listen to the podcast, Food waste: Throwing the planet in the bin. It’s out now, wherever you get your podcasts, and at the link below. 

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