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Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal [Hardcover]

Tristram Stuart
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 12, 2009 9780393068368 978-0393068368

The true cost of what the global food industry throws away.

With shortages, volatile prices and nearly one billion people hungry, the world has a food problem—or thinks it does. Farmers, manufacturers, supermarkets and consumers in North America and Europe discard up to half of their food—enough to feed all the world's hungry at least three times over. Forests are destroyed and nearly one tenth of the West's greenhouse gas emissions are released growing food that will never be eaten. While affluent nations throw away food through neglect, in the developing world crops rot because farmers lack the means to process, store and transport them to market.

But there could be surprisingly painless remedies for what has become one of the world's most pressing environmental and social problems. Waste traces the problem around the globe from the top to the bottom of the food production chain. Stuart’s journey takes him from the streets of New York to China, Pakistan and Japan and back to his home in England. Introducing us to foraging pigs, potato farmers and food industry CEOs, Stuart encounters grotesque examples of profligacy, but also inspiring innovations and ways of making the most of what we have. The journey is a personal one, as Stuart is a dedicated freegan, who has chosen to live off of discarded or self-produced food in order to highlight the global food waste scandal.

Combining front-line investigation with startling new data, Waste shows how the way we live now has created a global food crisis—and what we can do to fix it. 8 pages of illustrations

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stuart (The Bloodless Revolution) writes of the perilous illusion of abundance and how countries can reduce food waste by accurately examining how much they toss away due to poor storage or unused surplus—and why. European and American food manufacturers, supermarkets and consumers throw away between 30% and 50% of their food supply—enough to feed the world's hungry. Waste also occurs as a result of inadequate harvesting and farming techniques, prevalent in countries like Pakistan, where the author examines the need for better grain harvesting and land cultivation. Stuart's thoughtful illumination of the problem and his proposed solutions are bound to get even the most complacent citizen thinking about how slowly wilting vegetables might have a second life. Simply growing more food, Stuart argues, is not necessarily the answer. Agriculture takes up space and often results in deforestation. If rich countries could cut waste by treating food more carefully, while developing countries gained the equipment necessary to improve their output, he contends, a significant reduction in global food waste—and even global hunger—could be achieved. Stuart's brief is passionately argued and rigorously researched, and is an important contribution to the discussion of sustainability. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“The world faces incredibly difficult challenges—we simply can't afford the kind of crazy waste Tristram Stuart uncovers and describes in this beautifully reported work. It's nauseating in places, but ultimately hopeful: if we got serious about preventing this waste, we might just find the margin we need to deal with our biggest problems.” (Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy)

“In Waste, Tristram Stuart...ingeniously unites many food scandals that often do not get the attention they deserve...Usefully, Stuart offers examples of what we could be doing better, from processing technologies to offal sausages.” (New Scientist)

“Jaw-dropping ...compelling—a must-read... Stuart has an unanswerable case.” (Bee Wilson - The Sunday Times [London])

“Book of the Week: Stuart’s book is passionate, closely argued and guaranteed to make the most manic consumer peer guiltily into the recesses of their fridge.” (Sunday Telegraph [London])

“An extremely thought-provoking, passionate study which could make even the biggest skeptic think twice before putting the leftovers in the bin.” (Scotland on Sunday)

“Tristram Stuart lifts the lid on the obscene levels of produce ending up in landfill....Read it and weep.” (The Sun [London])

“This is a first class book, as copiously referenced as any academic report, yet both blunt and incisive—the sort of book one can expect only from someone who gets his hands mucky as well as inky.” (Simon Fairlie - The Land)

“This is one of those books that everybody should read....It may well change your view of the way we treat food forever.” (Paul Kingsnorth - The Independent [UK])

“Deftly illuminates the global consequences of our choices about what to eat.” (Tom Standage - BBC Focus Magazine)

“Passionate, closely argued and guaranteed to make the most manic consumer peer guiltily into the recesses of their fridge.” (John Preston - Seven)

“Every day all around the globe, appallingly enormous amounts of otherwise edible food go to waste even while humans are starving. Stuart aims to educate people about where such waste occurs, how much of it there is, and what possible steps can be undertaken to reduce it substantially if not eliminate it altogether.... Notes and a huge bibliography lead readers to additional resources on this pressing environmental issue.” (Mark Knoblauch - Booklist)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393068368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393068368
  • ASIN: 0393068366
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #919,241 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Topic and Summary - December 1, 2009
Tristram Stuart is an energetic and talented individual who has turned an early hobby, thinking about food waste, into a life-consuming passion. Unfortunately, his data and associated conclusions are sometimes limited, but he makes up for that with honesty and common-sense. Stuart begins with a U.N. estimate that the world's agricultural land may decline in productivity by up to 25% this century, thereby making food availability a serious matter. (Worse yet is the projected growth in world population from its current 6.8 billion to 8.9 billion by 2050 - a 31% increase.) Stuart believes that about half of the world's food is wasted, though some of that is debatable - eg. feeding leftover human foods to farm animals, 'growing' biofuels. Regardless of the precise amount, as Stuart points out, the food waste is considerable, and this also wastes energy and adds to global warming.

Sources of waste exist all along the food chain. For example, farmers may grow 25% extra to ensure meeting contracts (and avoid expensive penalties) with acceptable volume and quality, large numbers of fish are thrown back (most die) because they are too small or the wrong species. Stuart goes on to point out that farmers lose additional amounts, especially in third-world nations, due to inadequate storage, lack of refrigeration, and exposure to sunlight. Food packagers and retailers create more waste through largely aesthetic standards and overstocking (especially at smaller stores) to avoid potentially lost sales - eg. minimizing the appearance of 'picked over' shelf-stock. How do aesthetic standards create waste - some packagers (eg. Birdseye), per Stuart, prohibit the resale of rejected product, or require it to be used for animal feed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Tristram Stuart's WASTE: UNCOVERING THE GLOBAL FOOD SCANDAL tells the overlooked story of how what we don't eat is destroying our environment. About 50 percent of all food is wasted by farmers and manufacturers - enough to food the world's hungry and more. Solutions to this problem are provided in a survey of the issue, human food chain waste habits, and how they may be remedied.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful Introduction August 15, 2010
Insightful introduction to a topic that begs for a lot more scholarship, research, and writing.

If there's something I took away, it's the importance of 1) Reducing; 2) Redistributing; 3) Recycling. In other words, whenever possible, waste should be reduced-- eliminated from all stages of the farm --> fork chain. More flexible and fair relationships between farmer/producers and supermarket buyers, less aesthetically stringent and really unnecessary standards, supermarkets' willingness to forgo the illusion of a constant cornucopia of a harvest, and many other factors would contribute to such a reduction. Stuart also goes into how food waste might be reduced in the fishing, restaurant, and catering businesses, etc. Next, food ought to be redistributed-- given to the poor, rather than needlessly and heartlessly landfilled. Here, Stuart seems to regard food as a basic human right, and I have some problem with his rather idealistic urge to supermarkets and producers to just give the leftovers or extras to the hungry. (He suggests, for example, that food be given directly within supermarkets to those on state benefits or who belong to particular groups. Finally, Stuart touches upon the importance of recycling, and how food waste should, as much as possible, be funneled as high as it might right back into the food chain. And here it is that he praises pigs to the sky as excellent purveyors of waste, marvelous magicians at turning inedible junk into plump flesh. If feeding waste to animals like pigs or chickens isn't possible, though, Stuart urges for anaerobic digestion or composting, anything save landfilling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Very comprehensive, very well researched, furthermore, the author walks the talk- he is successfully using waste for everyday living, not just as a subject for a lively, vivid book. It is especially relevant for all us "civilized" societies and offers a perfect philosophical perspective on the subject: waste is the other side of the coin in our lives which we often prefer to ignore. Nothing is more expensive than a free lunch.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Easily one of my all-time favorite eye-opening books. I highly recommend this book to those in the food industry, who care about global supply chain, food supply/shortages and/or who value an understanding of "what went wrong" in our global food system. I also highly recommend Stuffed and Starved, a longer read, but relevant topic matter and another fantastic book.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In "Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal," Tristram Stuart reveals the ugly and massive scale of the food waste problem, along with the "connectedness" of the global food system and the negative impact of the wasteful habits of rich countries on less developed countries and the environment.

Stuart provides a reality check and shows that we need to think differently about our food; noting that we produce more than enough food now - and that we are capable of feeding all of the hungry people in the world if we stop wasting food and use those resources effectively.

He educates us on the severity of the problem throughout the food chain, including issues at the supermarket level (where overstocking and displays of "perfect" produce lead to substantial waste) as well as issues at the manufacturing level, where that same quest for perfection - along with overproduction and minimal costs associated with environmental externalities - leads to additional waste.

He also covers many other key themes including the extent of household waste, the waste resulting from confusion over sell-by dates, the alarming waste in our fisheries, the value of using all parts of animals, and the need for infrastructure investment to reduce losses from spoilage in less developed areas where hunger is already a severe problem.

Stuart effectively makes the link to climate change and shows that our culture of waste puts enormous pressure on the environment; as we seek to grow more and more food we consume more and more land, deplete finite resources, and pollute our air and water.
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