Western countries throw out nearly half of their food, not because it’s inedible — but because it doesn’t look appealing. Tristram Stuart delves into the shocking data of wasted food, calling for a more responsible use of global resources.
Tristram Stuart sounds the warning bell on global food waste, calling for us to change the systems whereby large quantities of produce and other foods end up in trash heaps.
Here, a haunting collection of images meant to provoke some deep thinking about the global food system, and especially the wastefulness of the industrialized north.
Revealing The Revolting Beauty Of Food Waste
by TED BURNHAM
Isn’t rotting food beautiful?
Nobody likes to see good food go bad. But Klaus Pichler’s photography series One Third, which portrays food in advanced stages of decay, is a feast for the eyes — even if it turns the stomach.
The project was inspired by the fact that much of the world’s food goes to waste — one-third, according to a 2011 United Nations estimate.
The U.S. and Europe waste about 10 times as much food per person as sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia, that report found. In the developing world, storage problems are the main culprit. But in developed countries, consumers throw out lots of food that is still perfectly edible.
Pichler says the rampant waste is a symptom of a culture that commodifies and devalues food.
“There are lots of spontaneous decisions in the supermarket,” Pichler tells The Salt. He says people often don’t stop to think about whether they’re buying too much, or whether they could reuse leftovers instead of throwing them away.
To highlight the overlooked value in everyday foods, Pichler approached his project as if it was an advertising photo shoot for a high-end brand. He started with common items from the supermarket, like cheese, strawberries and cauliflower. After letting each food fester for a few weeks, he arranged it in his studio for a luxurious portrait.
Pichler admits to using standard advertising photography tricks, like invisible string and tape, in about half of the shots, and a few — like a carton of curdled milk, spilling onto black fabric — are composites of multiple images. But the spoilage, he says, is au naturel, produced by whatever spores and bacteria each item normally carries. Black backgrounds and dramatic lighting bring out vivid colors of decay: moldy blues, fungal greens and putrid yellows.
The contrast between rot and luxury is certainly striking. But we wondered: Can the harsh global consequences of food waste, which include economic exploitation, malnourishment and starvation, really be addressed through gorgeous art photography?
“If you look at [the photos], you get provoked,” Pichler says. “Then you begin to think about your own consumer behavior.”
To drive the point home, each photo is accompanied by information on where, when and how the food was produced, the distance it traveled, and its carbon and water footprints.
For added realism, Pichler conducted the entire project, from purchase to putrefaction to photograph, in his home in Vienna. And it wasn’t always pretty. The worst was when he had raw chicken and octopus decomposing at the same time.
“These two smells united, and it was horrible,” he says. But he felt it was important that he “coexist with the rotting food” to develop a greater appreciation for the food’s value, and tie the project back to a household.
“If you go through the whole series, I think you’ll see more than one picture that you’ve experienced in your home,” he says.
Pichler is working on partnerships with nonprofits to incorporate One Third into activism campaigns. “At the moment I feel like I’m pointing my finger at this problem, but I’m not doing anything about it,” he explains. There are also plans for an exhibition at Vienna’s Anzenberger gallery early next year. In the meantime, you can see the full set of photos at Pichler’s website.
From a recent opinion piece out of The Week, an article close to my environmentally minded political roots on the worrisome amount of waste produced by the wildly inefficient global food market:
With global food prices spiking around the world — and malnourishment rampant — it’s “astounding” to consider how much food people throw away every day. After paper products, food is the second biggest source of waste in the U.S, accounting for 33 million tons of trash in 2010, says Sarah Nassauer at The Wall Street Journal. Globally, an estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of all food gets thrown away, say Lisa Baertlein and Ernest Scheyder at Reuters — with each American throwing away about 400 pounds a year, the weight of an adult male gorilla. Here’s what you should know:
Why are we throwing away so much food? The biggest reason food gets wasted, especially in developed economies like the U.S., is overbuying. “People tend to overestimate what they need at the store when they are well-stocked at home,” a Cornell University marketing professor tells the WSJ. They buy too much, and the extra goes to waste — “just over half of avoidable food and drink waste” occurs because the products weren’t used before their expiry dates.
Which foods are the most wasted? Veggies. Not only do vegetables get thrown away when they expire at home, but they also get trashed before they even make it to your refrigerator. “In richer nations, edible fruit and vegetables end up in landfills because they are not pretty enough to meet a retailer’s standards,” say Baertlein and Scheyder. And in developing countries, food often “spoils before it gets to market due to poor roads and lack of refrigeration.”
What can be done? Good habits start before you get to the grocery store. Make a list of what you absolutely need before you go, say Jill Krasny and Noelia de la Cruz atBusiness Insider. “Only take advantage of coupons or deals when you need the item,” and don’t be afraid of leftovers. “Brown-bagging it… frees up a huge chunk of change.” Families can save anywhere from $500 to $2,000 a year by throwing away less food. And remember, “best by” dates are merely guidelines — they don’t necessarily mean the food has gone bad.
Imagine what it would mean to the starving people in our country and around the world if we could lower food prices by even a few percent simply by finding ways to stop throwing out 30-50% of the food we already produce?