For Louiza Hamidi, it is our conceptual exploration that reclaims moments as art. And she likes to make art about food waste.
I met Louiza Hamidi a few years ago when we studied together for our fine art degree, we have remained friends and collaborated on many works to varying degrees. Louiza and I collaborate on our pop up installation Food Waste Café, where we cook and serve food waste to visitors in a restaurant setting, but Louiza has been very busy with food waste since her degree. She has embarked on a food waste tour of England, exploring how food waste is managed in other cities, she has completed a half marathon fuelled by food waste and she has invested a great deal of time into collecting food waste from supermarkets and distributing it through Curb, an active food waste campaign operating on a pay as you feel basis.
With the new French law coming into effect requiring supermarkets to deal with food waste more responsibly; I speak to Louiza about what she’s doing and her thoughts on the current food waste situation.
How did you become interested in the issue of food waste?
I had been experimenting with different ideas around ‘sustainable living’ for years, becoming increasingly aware of my own consumption and critical of consumer culture. Foraging for food in bins was just the next step on the journey! I became very interested in the creative form of eating with one another, whilst simultaneously exploring the use of artistic processes as a tool for socio-political change.
How do supermarkets react with your requests for their food waste?
I am yet to collect from the bigger supermarkets but I do collect from local stores, community events and food banks. Requests can be a bit of a shock at first. I think people fear judgement, so sometimes owners or staff lie to me claiming they have zero waste. Once, I had been asking for food from an organization that told me multiple times that they didn’t have waste. Out of the blue, I received a call one-day saying that my request had not left their mind and that they had come to terms with the fact that they do have waste. She asked if I could come in and pick up the surplus that she now believed to exist! It was an amazing, amazing moment for me. We’d planted an idea, and been patient. We’d built trust and challenged pre-existing fear/shame about waste. It really confirmed that there is so much potential when stores say no, as it’s the invisible thought processes that continue out of our control that will make positive impact.
What is Curb?
Curb is solely a food waste campaign. We have a business plan that works toward putting itself out of business.
Curb recently faced the issue of turning up to an event with cooked food and being told they couldn’t serve it. Does Curb face these kinds of obstacles often?
This was the first time that we’d turned up and been told we couldn’t serve our food. This was not because of health and safety, or because the food was once deemed ‘waste’ but because there was confusion within the organization of the festival. It is a real-life problem that caterers who are charging prices for food at festivals, are going to need to cover their overheads. The caterer was just upset and fearful of other people sharing food as she saw us as competition. We were very understanding, compromised a great deal, but we were not going to let our beautiful food go to waste!
How do you deal with the legality of serving out of date food?
I just do it. I think there are times when corporate law has its place, and there are times when it doesn’t. I feel the issue of food waste is because we don’t listen to common law. We are people of the planet and there is food that is safe to eat being wasted, due to profiteering, constructed policies and beauty ideals. The bottom line of Curb is to disrupt this. However, in order to acquire and rescue the most food from being wasted, I have to compromise with the system at the moment and make sure there is no reason why food businesses can say that they ‘can’t’ give us their surplus. I abide by everything we need to in order to push forward our campaign – but I’m always honest about the contradictions and make sure I share these kinds of dilemmas with people in conversations.
Do you think the new laws in France are useful and will they be effective?
I think that the use and effectiveness that will come out of them is essentially getting food waste onto public and political agenda. I don’t think it will make much difference to the reality of food waste, as laws are very easy to get around if you’re a big corporation that makes lots of money and works with the government.
I think it’s excellent as a first step, but I find it so problematic! Distributing food waste to charities and non-profits is actually just moving the responsibility to those in the third sector. This has been hugely devastating for decades and is never a solution! It merely removes moral, social, ethical and environmental conscience away from those systems and institutions that cause it and on top of that, it passes on the weight, time, cost and conscience to those working with extreme effort to combat their mistakes. We need to get to the root, but I appreciate this kind of legislative change (whether truly enforced or not) is definitely the first step in the right direction.
And finally, how can we make changes to food waste in the UK or even globally?
As a human race, I think we need to rediscover our connection with food. I believe that we are only so wasteful because we have little to no respect for food. We are completely blinded by a construction of what food is – hidden away from all parts of the food chain and only exposed to food as a commodity to buy/sell. Most of us only experience food at the Retail part of the system.
If we could disrupt this idea individually and on a society level, we would have so much more respect for food. We need to become conscious of what is on our plate, where it comes from, how it grows, what it does to sustain life, how much value it has and what it means to share food with others… then I don’t think we would create policies, legislation or practices that puts colossal amounts of good food to waste!
This is what Pay As You Feel is all about for me. This is why Curb exists.