War on Waste: media exposure on arbitrary food labelling

We have been banging on about supermarket waste for a little while now, it’s no secret that our menus are more often than not constructed from food deemed fit for a bin. When the producers at Keo Films asked us if we wanted to get our message on prime time TV, we had to think twice, but decided to go ahead and take arms with Hugh Fernly-Whitingstal in his #WarOnWaste.

It was a warm July evening when we met Hugh and the team in his hotel lobby, the crew rigged up our trusty fridge van, rusty, with mics and cameras as we shared a beer and went over the plan. It was simple enough, drive to a sleepy South Gloucestershire town and get Hugh pulling food out of supermarket skips to show the nation first hand how despite what companies may write on their glossy websites, the bins are full of perfectly good food.

Simple enough?

Well, nothing is simple when you have a pushy director calling the shots, but eventually after conversations were repeated and we got all the ‘drive by’ shots, we pulled up at our first target around midnight, Tesco express. Now I would consider myself a seasoned skipper, so there is no excuse for what happened next. We went to lift the lid on the general waste bin behind the shop (Tesco’s claim that no food goes to landfill so if there was food in there, that would mean a corporation lied, can’t be true!) and it was locked! This should not be a problem for a veteran bin raider as all you need is a universal key that opens the locks on pretty much all bins, but I had left my trusty bin key at home. I could not hide my embarrassment as Hugh and myself proceeded to jimmy the lock with a pair of pliers. Two minutes later we were in! The lid swung open to reveal a mountain of Fererro Rocher, condoms and beer. Not quite what anyone expected, but fortunately these were still good until 2018! There wasn’t much in the way of sustenance at Tesco so we thought we would check out our favourite haunt, Waitrose.

Here we found a much more balanced diet, fruit, veg, dairy, meat, it was all there. We have been doing this for a while now so we were not that shocked by what we found, if anything it was slightly smaller than average for this particular store. I think Hugh had geared himself up for what he was going to witness so he didn’t have the visceral reaction that is often seen when taking a newbie skipping but what he did have was some evidence to confront Waitrose with and that is what was to happen next, not before a street party in Manchester though!

A week later we were on the M5 with Rusty and the food rescue ambulance, no Hugh this time and no camera crew. The mission was to find enough food between Bristol and Manchester to throw the residents of Gardner road and their nearest and dearest a binner party. After a night of successful skipping and a couple of much needed hours of sleep in the hotel we were welcomed to CJ’s cafe by Carol to prepare the feast. TRJFP Manchester turned up to help out and we got everything to the party just in time to be swamped by hungry people all wanting to sample our bin food. Sadly though as is often the case, peoples eyes were bigger than their bellies and the tables were a wash with unfinished plates of food. Oh yes, even at a food waste awareness feast, people still manage to waste food, but of course that didn’t stop Hugh getting on stage and congratulating everyone.

The funniest bit was when he talked about making yoghurt ice lollies with the kids, as a little girl came up to put one of said lollies in the bin behind our Ambulance because it was ‘yukkie’. I should stop being so cynical though… About six weeks later we got a call from the production team, they needed to figure out how they could get from London to Bristol to get hold of some skipped food from us in to take to a meeting with Waitrose in Salisbury, never has so much effort gone in to getting someone lunch out of a bin! So armed with an earnest letter from us, a skipped sandwich and some clips from their bins, Hugh was all set to give Waitrose a good talking to about the lies on their website. Fair play to Hugh, he got some results, the website was changed within two weeks, instead of the outright lie that they don’t waste food, it said they are trying to find partners to work with. Furthermore, they agreed to meet with us and talk about they can try and do better. So far we have had two meetings with the Waitrose sustainability team. It is great that they are trying to do the right thing but I can’t help but feel that supermarkets are not capable of providing the answers to the problems that they have created.

As an organisation we may have come full circle, when we started out we never planned to work with supermarkets, it was all about high lighting their unethical and wasteful practices and calling for their demise. Are they capable of making the structural change necessary? They answer to their share holders not to nagging activists.

 

Watch the show here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06nzl5q

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