Too much food in the UK?

I saw this report on TV - it was about a former British media executive who quit his job and started a career as a freedster (I can’t remember exact term though). He said he had lived on free food which we fetched from waste bins for more than 5 years. He said about 40% of all food in the UK is thrown away for various reasons - be it because it has reached its sell before date, because people had bought too much, because they had changed their mind, because the package had some small damage, etc. He also said that there are as many people in the world who suffer from over-eating as there are people who suffer from hunger. I just wanted to share this with you, maybe you have some ideas on this? I mean there are lots of people in Argentina who don’t have enough to eat. Maybe we could start some type of British-Argentinian food exchange program?

Curious to hear what you have to say…

What an issue you’ve raised there, Andreana! There isn’t much we can say, really. Just futilely ponder on the absurdity of the world which we inhabit and feel ashamed at the unfairness of it all. It will, at most, make us wonder how much we really care about other people’s hunger and suffering. But we are usually very careful not to let such depressing thoughts linger too long in our already very preoccupied minds, lest we start feeling the tiniest bit uncomfortable. Although we have by now become experts at putting our conscience at rest: after all, if we knew what could be done about it, apart from giving to charity and things like that, we would do it straightaway, of course. Our moral superiority would take care of that.

Anyway, we have enough worries of our own as it is, haven’t we now – like we can’t decide what to make for lunch tomorrow (now there’s a problem for you to chew on!).

I’m not surprised by what you’ve written, Andreana. The same thing happens all over the developed world.

In fact, there is at least one charity in the US that collects this just barely expired food, food in imperfect packages, apples or potatoes that are the wrong size or color, delicious oranges with ugly skins, etc., and it takes it by the truckload down to Appalachia and gives it to very needy families.

It’s true that in Western countries there’s more of a problem with overeating than with hunger. There was an interview one time on TV here in which they went to a charity food distribution center and asked the people in line what kinds of things they had at home. They nearly all had cars, they all had TVs, radios, CD players and DVD players, among other luxuries. Most of our poor would be middle class in most countries.

Just because they have enough food, though, it doesn’t mean they eat the right stuff. A friend of mine lived in a poor neighborhood for several years, and at Christmas he and his girlfriend put some cakes, cookies and fruit out on a table and brought the local kids in to help themselves. They thought the kids would go for the cookies, but instead – in what looked almost like an involuntary physical reaction – they made a beeline for the fruit and gorged themselves on it. They ate enough fruit for a month in just one afternoon. Their moms can afford fruit, but never think of buying fruit, and the kids’ bodies just knew they needed it.

I’ve often read economists claim that the world raises enough food to feed everyone adequately, and that the hunger problem is all about distribution. Sometimes food is held off the market to keep the prices up. Sometimes it spoils en route because of a bad transportation infrastructure (a problem in India, they say). Then there are cases where a government really does want people to starve, such as when Stalin removed the food from Ukraine and killed 15 million people. A more recent example came in the 1980s, when people all over the West gave millions for famine relief in Ethiopia, only to find that the Ethiopian government refused to let it be distributed. They were starving the people in certain parts of the country on purpose. They even sold food to Egypt at that time. A lot of the food spoiled on the docks.