It's not the 'skipping' three who should be questioned, it's the wasteful supermarkets

In a world where nearly a billion people go hungry, this model cannot continue

Share

It was a commenter on my Facebook page who put the ‘skipping’ charges against three men who were taking discarded food from a bin at an Iceland store in North London in the best perspective I've seen – they said: if there's a crime here, it's only the (non-legal) one of wastefulness, in which case it's the supermarket that should be in the dock, not the dumpster divers.

Three men are being charged - the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has said it sees “significant public interest” in proceeding - accused of taking stealing tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes from a supermarket's bins. Police say they retrieved and “returned” the items to the store. That is to say they ensured what was undoubtedly perfectly good food went into (at best) composting or anaerobic digestion, but quite likely into landfill.

You do have to wonder if there's a campaigner in the CPS who thinks it is time to put the entire supermarket model of food distribution on trial.

Recently, Tesco admitted that more than 30 per cent of bagged salad is wasted in store, and 40 per cent of apples. In total in the first six months of last year, 28,500 tonnes of food waste were generated in its stores and distribution centres. No doubt the other giant oligopolists that dominate our food chains are similar.

The fact that ‘dumpster diving’/‘skipping’/‘bin raiding’ is a new phenomenon is clear from the absence of a settled name - but it’s clear that it the practice is spreading fast. That's a product of the rising desperation in our society that has seen foodbanks become one of our fastest growing industries, as I saw for myself last week on a visit to one in prosperous Winchester.

We hardly need a reminder of how wasteful the supermarket model is. It’s based on the principle that every item will be in stock all of the time, and will be shipped back and forth across the country, or the globe, from grower to packager to warehouse to store. Inevitably, enormous quantities go to waste.

In a world where nearly a billion people regularly go hungry, with demand for food expected to rise significantly with no one really knowing where that food is going to come from, in which our carbon emissions (of which food production counts for a significant proportion) are critically excessive, this is not a model that can continue.

We've been trained to think there's no alternative, but of course there is, and it's a model I've seen first-hand in London: a relatively small, local shop, which relies primarily on relatively local suppliers bringing in as much of the stock as possible - in the right seasons, potatoes come from a farmer in Kent, tomatoes and peppers from a single grower in Essex. Sometimes food gets damaged and bruised in transit, sometimes it ripens faster than expected, sometimes it's mysteriously less popular than usual, and when that happens, the food is cooked on site for sale - as ready meals or preserves or as sandwich fillings.

This place is The People's Supermarket. It isn't a zero-waste model (we've got a long way to go to tackle disposable packaging, something that needs to be addressed on a much broader scale), but there's very little waste of food. No ‘skipping’ occurs there.

We've seen the seemingly inexorable rise of the supermarket giants over the past decade or so; their move from white elephant out-of-town stores to smaller stores at every bus stop and train station -where they often prove bad neighbours, with noisy overnight deliveries disturbing residential areas, regular blocking of parking and traffic with HGVs and the nuisance of trolleys all over the pavement.

But these look increasingly like the paroxysm of a dying giant – this is a 20th-century model of food distribution that isn't fit for today - too wasteful, too costly, and as we saw during the fuel blockade, too fragile, for an age in which food security, affordability and frugality will become new watchwords.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'