As regular readers of this site will know I read (and review) quite a number of environmental books and because of this it normally takes something very special to stand out from the crowd. I will tell you straight away that for me, this was just such a book.
Waste by Tristram Stuart (subtitled Uncovering The Global Food Scandal) takes a wide-ranging and balanced look at the food that is wasted around the world, practical steps to reduce this wastage and what it could mean not only for the starving people around the world but also for the environment as a whole.
Rather than basing his investigation on hearsay or assumptions, the author is keen to back up his arguments with hard facts and indeed the references cited at the back of the book make up roughly 20% of all the pages in the book. On the one hand this seems something of a waste in itself – after all we’re paying for these pages that few people will actually read – but on the other it is nice that the author has held himself accountable for his views and provided references for further investigation.
Indeed to me it was these shocking facts which made this book so gripping. I found myself turning over page corner after page corner so I could come back at a later date to revisit those statistics that really surprised or interested me.
Here are just a few examples from many that I gleaned from Waste…
– Fresh fish and fruit cost up to 5 times as much on a per-calorie basis when compared to fast foods
– In 2003 Americans were eating 24 times more meat than the average Indian
– For every serving of salad you eat, two more have been thrown away at some point in the supply chain
– For every carrot that you eat you have paid for at least one more to just be thrown away
Stuart clearly and interestingly explains where food is wasted and why it is wasted. It seems around 50% of food is wasted somewhere between the farmers field and our dinner plates and of course resources have gone into producing this food. Wasting less food would mean less land required to feed our growing population, fewer wild areas being cut down for farmland, more land available for reclamation into new wilderness areas, fewer hungry people in the world, fewer agrochemicals used and so on.
And yet it wasn’t just the facts which kept me enthralled in this book but also the balanced view of the author. The typical standpoint on food waste is to look at all the food we ourselves waste in our homes and the food that goes to waste thanks to large supermarket chains.
But Tristram Stuart doesn’t leave things there. He investigates food manufacturers and small retailers (pointing out that ironically organic “ethical” stores often throw away a far higher proportion of their produce than do large supermarkets). Even poor nations are not treated as sacred cows as the author examines how much food they waste – often through poor harvesting and storage practices.
In short this is a fascinating guided tour through the murky world of food wastage and I truly struggled to put it down. For me, this is the best environmental book I have read in a long time and I strongly recommend you get hold of a copy yourself. Click here to find out more about Waste: Uncovering A Global Food Scandal.