One of the more difficult things, as Douglas Adams pointed out, is to keep a sense of proportion about the world. It is easy, of course it is, to point to something or other and shout "That's a massive problem!" It's rather more difficult to look at something and ponder on whether it's actually an important problem. It is once we do the latter that we can actually work out whether this is something that we should devote efforts to sorting out or not.
And so it is with food waste from supermarkets. We're told that this is one of those massive problems. There are even those who insist that supermarkets themselves are the problem as a result of this waste. Consideration is necessary here:
Tesco has revealed that the amount of food waste generated by the supermarket giant increased to 59,400 tonnes last year – the equivalent of nearly 119 million meals.
119 million meals! That's a massive problem!
Well, no, not really. It's two meals a year, a little under that in fact, for each inhabitant of these isles. Interesting, certainly, but not exactly massive. And then there's this:
The amount wasted was the equivalent of one in every 100 food products sold by Tesco during the last financial year.
Or as we might put it, 1% of throughput. At which point it's worth going and looking at parts of the world that do not have the supermarket logistics chain. And that is the correct way to think of supermarkets. Not as simply shops that we go to, they're just the retail outlets of the logistics and production chain that stretches right back to the planting of the fields.
The FAO and others have pointed out that in countries reliant upon more traditional practices some 50% of food gets wasted between farm and fork. It is this which explains the reason why the world grows enough calories for all yet not all can eat enough calories. The supermarkets reduce that waste considerably at that cost of the trivial losses at the supermarkets themselves. No, it's not quite true that the net gain from having supermarkets is 49% of the harvested crop but it's getting on for that number.
Sure, distributing that 1% to the needy is a worthwhile thing to do, why not? But we do need to understand that it's not an important point. What is important is bringing that industrial logistics chain to those places which do not have it in order to save that 50% of the harvest.
Supermarkets, properly considered, are the cure for food shortages and waste, not the cause of them.