Today’s news told the story of three citizens being taken to court for the act of skipping. That is taking food from commercial bins, that is good to eat but would have otherwise been thrown away.
On the 25th October 2013, a member of the public called the police to report three men climbing over a wall at the back of an Iceland store in London. The three men were subsequently arrested, and faced prosecution for theft. Police arrested the men who were charged under the obscure 1824 ‘vagrancy act’, for stealing. However, later in the day it was reported that the Crown Prosecution Service decided to drop the charge. Nonetheless, this case raises very important questions about where responsibility for reducing food waste, and for reducing the increasing levels of food poverty in the UK.
Here at This is Rubbish, our story started in the bin, and at the moment remains there; in the backyard bins of big businesses. As food waste foragers ourselves, we came across staggering amounts of surplus at a local supermarket in Machynlleth, and later at the backs of stores, farms, whole sale markets and distribution centres all over the UK.
The big question here, is not about food waste, it is about justice. What is the bigger crime? The plight of the hungry citizen or political activist, taking food destined for landfill to eat, or big businesses throwing away tones of food every day.
Skipping is a necessary evil on two counts. Firstly, in the UK, people are increasingly hungry. In the UK, many low income workers are forced to make a decision between heating and eating. Meanwhile Iain Duncan Smith publicly undermines the front line experiences of hunger witnessed by the Trussel Trust on a daily basis. The reality is that for some, skipping for food is a matter of survival.
Secondly, in a world of scarce natural resources and where 1/8 people go hungry, wasting food on a large scale is a crime. Skipping is a moral and political decision that holds a spotlight up to the poor environmental and social practice of the colossal industries that control our food supply chain.
In the UK, we as citizens may be under the illusion that we have consumer choice, but we don’t. Grocery sales in the UK are dominated by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda
It is the responsibility of big business and government to set a clear path of action to stop food waste occurring in the first place. The responsibility for food waste lies not in the hands of the poor or politicized, but in the hands of big business and government. Today the big retailers took a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
With the aforementioned big four, plus M&S, Waitrose and Co-op agreeing to disclose the volume of food discarded by their stores, a step towards curbing industry food waste has been taken. However, the industry needs to agree to annual audits, using a set methodology, and implement ambitious food waste reduction targets; something This is Rubbish have been calling for since our inception in 2009. As recommended in This is Rubbish’s 2013 Counting What Matters report, the big grocery retailers need to examine waste occurring across their supply chains, and question whether or not their excessive buying and marketing policies are actually fit for purpose.