Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Secrets of the dustbin

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 02 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4990
  1. Andrew Jarvis, principal, GHK Consulting, and senior research fellow, Chatham House, London
  1. Andrew.Jarvis{at}

    The United Nations has estimated that global food production will need to double by 2050 to meet demand from a larger, wealthier population. After reading this book, you will believe that prospect to be either the most depressing thing you’ve heard in weeks or a tough but achievable goal, if only the lunacies it describes can be consigned to history.

    This is a book you can judge by its cover: Waste is what it says, waste is what it’s about. Tristram Stuart—a journalist, campaigner, and “freegan”—is the guide on a journey along the food chain. Hard numbers are often hard to find, as waste is rarely reported on, but Stuart constructs a picture of ubiquitous, casual waste of food and scarce resources on a monstrous scale. Waste on farms, as crops are ploughed back into the soil for being surplus to supermarkets’ requirements. Waste at sea, where fish are caught, killed, then discarded for being the wrong size or wrong species. Waste in countless factories, food stores, restaurants, and our home dustbins. Sometimes the culprit is commercial power or flawed regulation, but more often it seems to be carelessness, ignorance, or incompetence.

    The economics of food retail mean that shelves are kept full, even if that means more waste at the end …

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