In the last week of August, a corner of Blackheath in southeast London became home to Climate Camp 2009, a gathering of environmentalists and activists from across Britain under the umbrella of various green and left-wing causes.
On Sunday I ventured up to the camp and found myself in the midst of a hive of activity, with everything from craft workshops, lectures, activist group counselling sessions and even speed-dating on offer. But by far the biggest crowd was reserved for Tristram Stuart, historian of vegetarianism and crusader against food wastage.
Stuart is the poster boy of “freeganism,” the practice of trawling through the bins of supermarkets for surplus food discarded at the end of the day. His latest book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, is a devastating critique of the profligacy of the food industry, as well as a manifesto of how it can be reformed so that surplus food is used for its proper purpose—feeding people. Look out for his article in the upcoming issue of Prospect, published 24th September, in which he reveals cheaper alternatives to the much feted (and heavily funded) anaerobic digestion method of food waste disposal.
In person, Stuart is an impressive speaker—articulate, persuasive and armed with an alarming array of statistical data (Britain generates around 20m tonnes of food waste each year, while in the US around 50 per cent of all food is wasted). He also offers a range of realistic measures that could be introduced to prevent such wastage, from imposing mandatory food reduction targets for supermarkets and making food companies release accounts of how much food they waste, to simple ways we can change our own shopping habits. Most impressively, Stuart makes it all sound very easy—as he points out, there is no personal self-sacrifice involved in not throwing food away.
Predictably Stuart’s talk was received with great enthusiasm by the Climate Campers, but he is also clean-cut and accessible enough to reach a much wider audience, and is a savvy media operator. To coincide with the UN’s Climate convention in Copenhagen in December, Stuart will attempt to feed 5,000 people in Trafalgar Square solely with food discarded by businesses, a stunt which will undoubtedly raise his public profile even further.
As James Crabtree notes in this month’s Prospect, if David Cameron wins the next election he will be under great pressure to prove that his “vote blue, go green” slogan is more than just empty environmental posturing. Sitting down with a copy of Waste would be a useful first step to making good on those promises.