Tristram Stuart pauses for a moment. He draws himself up, and speaks in a deep, authoritative voice. ‘I really want to stress one thing,’ he says. ‘My objective is not to promote this activity. It is to engage businesses and society in the scale of the problem of food wastage.’ Then he starts rummaging in a black rubbish bag.
‘The point of taking food out of the bin is to make the point that good food shouldn’t be in the bin,’ explains Stuart, as he moves on through the orangey evening gloom of Holborn. In 2009, he wrote the book ‘Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’ and found that a third of the world’s food is wasted. This despite the West’s rapacious desire to cultivate crops, in the process draining the Earth’s resources and pricing families in developing nations out of buying staples like wheat. ‘The planet just can’t sustain that system,’ he says.
On High Holborn, Stuart stops by a coffee shop and picks up a heavy bag. It clinks with broken china. False alarm. It being early evening, we’re targeting sandwich and coffee shops. ‘But there are supermarkets all around here with bins full of food that they lock away,’ he says. In those bins are plenty of fresh fruit and veg. This on top of big retailers already forcing farmers to discard thousands of tonnes. ‘It’s because of nothing more substantial than that the veg is too long, short or wonky,’ he says. Stuart checks his watch and heads to Drury Lane, extolling the virtues of discount schemes, donating leftover food to charity or putting it back into the food chain by using it as animal feed. ‘If we could get all the food wasted in Britain in one day, we could make lunch for 60 million’, he sighs.But later this month in Trafalgar Square, he’ll settle for feeding 5,000, using misshapen fruit and veg donated by farmers. Food charities Fareshare and Foodcycle will talk, there’ll be a communal apple juicing and the public can pledge their opposition to food wastage. All with the support of the mayor.
But for now, he’s looking at a sushi shop’s bin bag. A refuse wagon trundles towards him. ‘Just in time,’ he chuckles, revealing 50 freshly packaged bento boxes, still cold from the refrigerator. ‘This really grieves me,’ he sighs. ‘We’re at the risk of extinguishing bluefin tuna from the oceans forever, and here it is in a bin.’ He takes his fill and replaces the bag, because it’s so packed with sushi, sashimi and California rolls, it’s more than one man could eat in a week. ‘And this,’ he says, ‘is just one bag outside one shop in one city, in one country in the Western world.’ And with that, a rubbish collector grabs the sushi sack, throws it into his wagon, and whole meals’ worth of perfectly good food is taken to be destroyed. Alexi Duggins
‘Feeding the 5,000′ is at Trafalgar Square (noon-2pm) on Friday 18 November. For info, see feeding5k.org.
Do you know any extraordinary Londoners we should be writing about? Email email@example.com or comment below.