Don’t give unwanted food to the hungry – just throw it away!

Tesco - Every little helps... but won't help anyone who needs it

Tesco – Every little helps… but won’t help anyone who needs it

Tesco are throwing away huge amounts of unwanted food.  They have revealed their food waste figures, revealing that 68% of salad to be sold in bags is thrown out.  They also confessed that 40% of apples were wasted, and just under half of bakery items.  A quarter of grapes are wasted between the vine and the fruit bowl and a fifth of all bananas are unused – with customers throwing one in 10 in the bin.

So, what does Tesco plan to do about this appalling waste?  Are they going to give food to homeless people, day centres, or night shelters, people who could really use the produce?  No:  they’re going to change their packaging, remove “display until” dates from fresh fruit and vegetables, and tell their in-store bakeries to “aim for better stock control and less waste.”

This is nothing new.  Years ago I lived in a series of squats, and it was standard practice to go to supermarkets and rifle through the skips round the back.  We usually found loads of produce that had been thrown away because it had reached its “best before” dates.  Obviously, some “out of date” food can’t be used: dairy products, for instance, go off quickly, and it doesn’t take long for fresh vegetables to stop being “fresh”.  But there were usually lots of stuff that was still okay.  Pies and pasties, pizzas, oven meals, some of the fruit, yogurts, mousses, dented cans – one time I found 20 cans of beer in a Leo’s (now Cooperative) skip.  A couple of mates were arrested on their way back home from the skip with loads of defrosting frozen chickens, and Leo’s actually wanted them to be prosecuted.  Claiming that the chickens should be considered to be worth the amount they would have sold for if they hadn’t been chucked!  So my mates were charged; but they pleaded not guilty and elected for trial by jury – ie at Crown Court.  A cunning strategy: when their case came up the judge dismissed all charges, furious that the court’s time (and his golf-playing time) was being wasted to prosecute people for stealing garbage!

This made Leo’s very unhappy.  They were determined to stop us from stealing their unwanted produce, and actually had a big cage erected to secure their skips.  But the cage had a big gap, to allow the skips’ lids to be raised, and it didn’t take us long to figure out how to get in and out of the cages, still taking bagfuls of perfectly good food.  Finally, Leo’s staff cut open all packaging going into the skip then pouring bleach over everything.  A local day centre for the homeless and vulnerable heard about it all, and they asked Leo’s if they could have the food rather than it being taken away to use as land-fill.  The supermarket management replied that they wouldn’t give away any of it but that the day centre could buy it!

It seems no supermarket wants to give away their waste, not where I lived anyway.  I think Marks & Spencer gave some stuff to the day centre;  but their skips always contained a bonanza of “rubbish”, and if staff saw anyone in the bins they would send out uniformed goons to chase us off.

So, why are the supermarkets so mean about this?  I know some skip-raiders leave a mess, but my mates and I never did.  And there were occasions when I’d find someone else had left a mess and I’d tidy up before I left.  But supermarkets put up high fences and lock the gates to keep out the skip-raiders, and of course nowadays in our surveillance state they have CCTV cameras covering the skip areas.  I’m glad I don’t have to rely on skips any more, but there are more needy people nowadays and with benefit cuts and the recession and all they rely on salvage and scavenging more than I ever did.

I understand that some people hate the poor and think it’s an affront if a beggar asks them for “spare change”.  But I find it hard to get my head round the fact that people don’t want anyone to take their unwanted garbage.  If you don’t want something and have thrown it in the bin so it will be taken away for land-fill, why would you go out of your way to keep it safe from the hungry poor?  Seriously, if you are one of the selfish brigade, please explain your rationale in Comments.  I’d really like to see what people have to say on this matter.

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