With the recent news of France’s new law prohibiting supermarkets from discarding edible food, there has been a sharp increase in discussion about food waste in the public eye.
France’s new food waste law is certainly a step in the right direction regarding responsible management of waste by corporations; however, this triumph is only a small part of the way to go and is problematic in many ways. Though public perception may see this development as the supermarket waste problem solved, many UK supermarkets have been claiming for years that they send their food waste to charities. This may be a surprise to those celebrating the Tesco CEO’s only recent public commitment to do the same; Tesco are possibly just catching up with their competitors. Waitrose’s website for example states that food fit for consumption is donated to local charities. From my own experience of dumpster diving, I know for a fact that this is incredibly misleading at the very least. My friends and I have recovered over a tonne in a few months from supermarket bins in one town.
Another issue with the French law is that it doesn’t address the cause for so much waste, the problem is simply being redirected, the responsibility is being passed on. Many charities that gratefully accept donations of food are given much more than they can distribute, meaning they still have to throw it away and in addition they must pay for the waste disposal. It is also unlikely that charities will have an arrangement for anaerobic digestion and so the food ends up in landfill, a worse fate than before. Companies like FareShare in the UK accept food from supermarkets and distribute it to charities. However, Fareshare disposes of donated food after a certain time period of having received it regardless of its use by date.
With waste being wrapped in so many layers of secrecy, law and bureaucracy it can leave individuals feeling powerless and uncertain of how to make an impact or change but there are many artists and movements in the UK taking action within their community to get people talking and bring these issues to the public agenda.
Disco Soup is a food waste movement sweeping Europe, an unlikely combination of food waste, cooking and disco. Originating in Germany as Schnippel Disko organised by Slow Food Youth Deutschland, the movement has been going strong for a few years now, recently having grown to be very popular in France as Disco Soupe. At these events, participants peel and cut salvaged veg in a party environment to create a dish to eat. The movement carries with it no element of monetary exchange, no sense of entitlement but a whole lot of community atmosphere. It is free flowing, anyone can organise one; simply combine a venue, a DJ, food waste and lots of dance ready participants.
Another inspirational and devoted activist in food waste is Louiza Hamidi, an artist I lived with and collaborated with during our degree. We continue to work together with our pop up installation/participation Food Waste Café, where we cook and serve food waste to visitors in a restaurant setting but aside from that Louiza is incredibly active with food waste in her community. She now runs Curb, an active food waste campaign operating on a pay as you feel basis, investing a great deal of time into collecting food waste from supermarkets and distributing it to the public. Despite the legally questionable ground of distributing food that has passed its sell by date, she is persistence and challenges the logic and validity of these laws allowing such waste to continue.
Artists like these are part of the driving force for changes in law, attitude and practices regarding waste, if not ethical conduct entirely. Although the fight to stop waste has already been going for decades, now is an important time to focus on waste and artists who work with these issues are crucial to inspire and motivate others to take direct action in combating them. Despite any criticisms France's new law faces, it reflects that this is an issue the public care about, it means supermarkets are legally bound to do what they claim to do already and it is certainly a step in the right direction.