According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, an estimated one third of food produced for consumer consumption is wasted every year—enough to feed 3 billion people.
Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, is working to reduce global food waste by working with governments, international institutions, businesses, NGOs, and the public. After working for more than a decade to minimize food waste, Tristram started an environmental organization called Feedback.
Feeding the 5000 was one of Feedback’s first initiatives and took place in December 2009 in London’s Trafalgar Square. The event fed 5,000 people using only ingredients that would otherwise have been thrown out for being cosmetically imperfect. The event garnered positive media coverage and raised awareness about the importance of reducing food waste. Since 2009, Feedback has continued to grow as an organization and Feeding the 5000 events have been held worldwide, most recently in Los Angeles.
Food Tank interviewed Tristram about what inspired him to get involved in food waste and where he hopes to take Feedback in the future.
Food Tank (FT): How did you develop the idea for Feeding the 5000?
Tristram Stuart (TS): Feeding the 5000 was born from my work on my book, Waste, and the organization I founded, Feedback, and a lot of joint thinking about how to demonstrate in a really visual, visceral way, just how much food is wasted the world over and to show businesses that people really care about this problem. I also wanted to create something that used the power of food to bring people together and celebrate that although food waste is a massive problem, the solutions can be positive—and delicious! There have been over 40 events worldwide, and on May 4 Feeding the 5000 is coming to L.A. for the first time, partnering with L.A. Kitchen and several city departments who have been working hard on tackling how much waste the city sends to landfill through Zero Waste LA—we’d love any of your readers there to join us and experience a food waste feast first hand.
FT: Can you describe some of the past events? What do people learn when they eat for that has been recovered?
TS: It all started in London in 2009 and from Feedback has worked with organizations across Europe to produce Feeding the 5000 events, from Paris to Dublin, then even further afield, to Sydney, NYC, and D.C. What’s palpable at each event is the power of a good meal to bring people together, and get them talking to one another about the massive impact of all this waste on the environment. Sharing this meal really brings home that what is being wasted isn’t rubbish—it’s good, nutritious food that should be filling bellies, not bins. We want people to go beyond feeling shocked, or guilty about food waste, to ask questions about why waste is occurring on this scale, and sign Feedback’s pledge to waste less themselves and ask businesses to do the same (you can sign here).
FT: Why did you choose to bring Feeding the 5000 to Los Angeles?
TS: Being in L.A. will be a wonderful and bizarre mix of showcasing the incredible work of our partners on hunger, food and the environment, against the backdrop of L.A.’s reputation as a symbol of excess amid a highly climate-conscious state that’s facing huge environmental challenges. When you consider that California supplies 90 percent of some vegetables eaten in the rest of the country, like broccoli, but then up to 40 percent of all that food is wasted, it makes you realize that states like California are bearing a disproportion burden of the climate and environmental impact of food waste in the U.S. We worked out that 9,000 million gallons of water A DAY in California is used to produce food that is never eaten—that’s equivalent to leaving a tap running all day every day for 9,000 years. That’s a serious amount of water down the drain because of food waste.
FT: Can you talk a bit about Toast Ale and the process for turning recovered bread into beer? What has been the response from consumers?
TS: I started Toast Ale in 2016, which is a delicious craft beer, made with surplus, fresh bread, to help both highlight and tackle the fact that bread is one of the most frequently wasted items in the U.K. Until Toast Ale, there has not been a scalable solution to surplus bread: it is overproduced in such massive quantities that soup kitchens and food recovery groups routinely turn away fresh, unsold bakery loaves. Beyond preserving valuable, resource-intensive grains for human consumption, 100 percent of the profits from Toast Ale will be poured into Feedback and other charities tackling the root causes of food waste. We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo—https://igg.me/at/toastale—to bring production to the USA as well.
FT: What plans does Feedback have for the future?
TS: We’re currently calling on food businesses, particularly supermarkets, to be transparent about how much they waste and where waste occurs, because without that transparency you’re really working in the dark when you’re looking for ways to prevent waste happening, like Toast Ale. All our programs focus on one goal—building a global food system that is sustainable and fair, and doing it through challenging power and inspiring people to achieve change. You can find out more by signing our pledge at www.feedbackglobal.org