#alienadventures: Lunchtime thought. Throwing away food while people starve. The human race is an odd lot.

Did you read the tragic, actually horrific, story about the the four Mmupele children from a place called “Verdwaal” (which means “lost” in Afrikaans) who died of hunger and thirst in the veld as they went in search of their mothers who had gone to look for work or food on a neighbouring farm? The children were aged 9, 7, 6 and 2.


So in one country we have sushi kings who publicise their excess – on their own narcissistic TV shows – and children who literally drop dead from hunger. I know it happens in other countries where the gini coefficient is as warped as ours, but it still points to something being very wrong indeed. In a similar way the story reminds me of the words of one of Lebo Mashile’s poems: “How is it that we walk on gold, and we have people who cannot read?” (or something to that effect – apologies to Lebo for paraphrasing)

And while we cluck and shake our heads, we are also part of the problem.

Every day, we unwittingly throw away vast amounts of food that is perfectly edible, which ends up in a landfill. There are two main reasons for us throwing away food (1) cooking or serving too much (eg: food that either gets left in the pot or on the plate) and (2) not using food in time (eg: throwing out fruit and vegetables because they’ve gone off, or not eating food before its best-before date). The fussy eaters amongst us also throw food away because they simply don’t like eating left overs.

In a country like South Africa, this kind of food waste is practically criminal. There are too many families that don’t have the luxury of eating three square meals a day, while those who do, waste what they have. It is estimated that if we could rescue just 25% of the food that is wasted globally, we could feed another 20 million people.

The Impact of the food we waste

  • In the UK 18 million tonnes of edible food end up in landfill each year. Approximately 1/3 from producers or supply chain, 1/3 from retail and 1/3 from households. The annual value of this wasted food is £23 billion (or R276 billion) and rising rapidly due to soaring prices.
  • This wasted food costs the average UK family around £680 a year (about R600 a month).
  • The US generates more than 34 million tons of food waste each year. Food waste constitutes just over 14% of the total municipal solid waste (MSW) stream: the single largest component of MSW reaching landfills and incinerators.
  • Experts estimate that eliminating the millions of tonnes of food thrown away annually in the US and UK could lift more than a billion people out of hunger worldwide.
  • In South Africa but it’s estimated that households here are also throwing away about 14% of the food they purchase, yet over 11 million South Africans are “food insecure”; in other words, don’t know where their next meal is coming from
  • There are serious environmental implications to wasting food. Not only is it a waste of resources but also a waste of energy, water and packaging used in food production, transportation and storage. This all goes to waste when we throw away perfectly good food.

With COP17 taking place in our own backyard, issues of sustainability are nagging once again. In terms of food, it’s not only how we can feed the planet’s poor, or growing population, but also how we can stop wasting what we already have.

Celebrity chef, Nigel Slater, has a few ideas. In his latest TV show – Simple Suppers – he shows us how to make simple, delicious meals out of ingredients that at first seem to have seen better days. Stale bread, brown bananas and hard cheese are all transformed to make mouth watering meals. The programme’s concept is not only fascinating, but also resonates at a time when many people are cash strapped and are looking for ways and means to make their hard earned cash go further. The programme comes across as clever, rather than miserly. Check out his awesome “black banana cake” recipe:


Food has ironically become a barometer of new trends and shifting social change: it has become both entertainment as well as popular culture in our digital age. We have celebrity chefs, reality shows and entire TV channels devoted to food. Even the concept of ‘food porn’ has entered the urban lexicon.

At the height of the global financial crisis in 2009, the style of cookbooks changed radically. A rash of what-to-do-with leftovers/cheap cuts of meat, themed books hit the shelves. Back then, is was all about saving money and cutting corners. This second wave of frugal food is different: more forward thinking and less transient.

When many of us were young, our parents nagged us to eat all the food on our plates because somewhere in the world there were starving children. Well, those starving children are now in our own back yards. It’s time to rethink our food consumption, and it really doesn’t take much effort.  Mahatma Ghandi once said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy man’s need, but not man’s greed”. But perhaps in our size 0, celebrity driven age, Audrey Hepburn’s advice will have more impact.

For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

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