The Reading Corner is a place where books of all genres are examined and reviewed. Comments, questions and disagreement are welcomed. Grab some coffee and a comfy chair and make yourself at home.

Monday, May 17, 2010


During my recent trip to D.C. as a chaperon for a group of eighth graders, I took a couple of books with me. One was Neil Gaiman's American Gods, about which I have already written at length. The other was a book I picked up on a whim at a sidewalk sale for a local bookstore.

Before I start talking about it, I'd like to make a note about myself: I am incapable of resisting sidewalk book sales. I had left class with a half hour to spare before my next one and every intention of getting myself a coffee, until I came upon the sale. Books were anywhere from 10-60% off, and half an hour later, I walked to class with three books and a calendar (and no coffee). I am also utterly unable to leave a bookstore without making a purchase.

Two of the books I picked up (and the calendar) were for my mom. The other was one that I picked up on a whim, because it spoke to an interest that has recently taken root (that's a pun and you'll see why soon; I am sorry): sustainable food and agriculture. I even wrote an article recently on permaculture greenhouses, and I'm working on creating a permaculture-type gardening scheme with my boyfriend. Mom has graciously said I can use a portion of the back yard to experiment, which is cool.

The book is called Waste, by an author named Tristram Stuart.

I will warn you right now that if you are not into being horrified and slightly ashamed of yourself, Waste is probably not for you. And yet if you were here in the room with me, I would insist that you read it and pass it along to your friends once you finished, because I think it's that important.

Waste is about the absolutely disgusting amount of food that is simply thrown away as garbage, all over the world. When you hear about starving people in far-flung portions of Africa and other impoverished areas of the world, there's often a sort of automatic assumption that there is simply not enough food to go around. No explanation or solution is ever offered in these cases -a request for money, perhaps, but no guarantee of anything actually resulting from it.

However, the food that is thrown away by people like me, and you, and most everyone we know, is enough to feed every hungry person on the planet several times over.

Think about that. Waste is absolutely a book that will make you think about that fact, in multiple ways. Stuart demonstrates a plethora of possible solutions for this global wasting of food that are not only relatively easy to accomplish, they don't even require that much sacrifice on the part of the average person, which should make the solutions an easy sell.

Reducing food waste would not only help feed people who otherwise cannot afford to eat, it would free up agricultural land for other purposes. Stuart goes through numerous options for how to deal with food waste, from South Korea's draconian legislation that makes it illegal to dispose of food in the garbage to using food waste to create biogas and feed livestock.

In addition to the shocking statistics about food waste Stuart presents (for example: for every carrot or potato eaten, 1 or more were discarded as esthetically imperfect and left to rot in a field or put in landfills), he's really quite a good writer. That can make all the difference in reading something like this. Stuart is able to blithely jump from raging about the wasteful practices of an industry to describing an individual with surprising empathy and some wonderfully evocative imagery.

Stuart was, himself, a freegan for a period of time -he lived almost entirely by rummaging through Dumpsters and trash bins outside of grocery stores and restaurants. A vast majority of the food thrown away by these places is perfectly edible and safe for human consumption -but it is simply discarded.

Waste is not an easy book to read from an emotional standpoint. I found myself getting swept up by Stuart's passionate writing, all while thoroughly enjoying the reading process. I was disappointed when I finished today, because I was totally engrossed in the topics he discusses. During and after my experience with Waste, I am taking a very serious look at my own eating habits. I've started being much more careful not to buy or put on my plate any more food than I can eat, and monitoring how much of anything I waste. I would absolutely recommend Waste to anyone with environmental interests or concern about the future of global food production.

In addition to that, there is a great documentary you can watch on YouTube about permaculture and the future of farming in the UK. The first of the 5 videos (roughly 10 minutes each) can be found here.

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