This is rubbish

An event in central London highlights the global problem of food waste

The New Statesman got a free lunch today in London, and we weren't the only ones.

Feeding the 5,000 was an event in Trafalgar Square that aimed to draw attention to the levels of food waste, both in the UK and elsewhere, by giving anyone who turned up a free lunch, a smoothie and as many groceries as they could fit in a bag.

I spoke to the organiser, Tristram Stuart, who wanted to draw public attention to this global problem. "There is enough food here to feed more than 5,000 people," he said, "and all of it would have been wasted had it not come here."

The main reason for this epic wastage is that all of the ingredients -- the apples in the smoothie, the beans in my curry and the bunch of grapes I took home -- are "outgraded", or cosmetically imperfect. In the UK, being "cosmetically imperfect" means that such food won't be sold by the supermarkets, and can be left to rot in the fields. Even if it makes it on to the next link in the food supply chain, it can still go to waste: in the UK, we waste as much as 25 per cent of all the food we buy, or the equivalent of £500 worth of food a year for every British family.

As a result, Stuart and the organisations he worked with, including This is Rubbish and FareShare, are calling on the government to set mandatory targets for reducing the waste. They also demand that supermarkets report the levels of food wasted "at each stage of the supply chain".

The effects of this problem do not stop with the UK, or with the developed world. Matthew Wingate of Save the Children sees a "direct link between the levels of waste in the UK and the life-saving work Save the Children does in some of the poorest parts of the world".

Having recently returned from north-eastern Kenya, where one in every three children is acutely malnourished, Wingate told me that waste impacts "on global climate issues, development aid targets and even individual giving". I asked him how it feels to see this small portion of the food Britain wastes. "To be honest, it feels disgusting," he said. "To return from feeding centres and see skiploads of perfectly edible 'waste' food really does appal me."

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The Nicholas Lezard guide to spending your book advance

It was quite wonderful, once again, to be able to do things such as go to restaurants, develop a fairly serious port habit and generally not scrounge.

Well, the good times had to end, as they always do, I suppose. I spent the last few months of 2016 experiencing the novel sensation of not being broke. You should try not being broke some time: it’s delightful. Then again, maybe you’re already not broke. We’ll come back to this later.

Anyway, the last time I had enough cash to be free of any kind of worry was back in, I think, 1989. I had an office job and was also getting regular work on the Sunday Correspondent. It wasn’t exactly two salaries but it was certainly at least one and a half.

One day, though, the good people at British Telecom – for that was where I was mostly employed – decided that I ought to be promoted. I didn’t like this idea, because it meant that I would have to start doing some actual work, rather than pottering around the place chatting to people and going for four-pint lunches. So I resigned. What could possibly go wrong? The Sunday Correspondent was a fine paper, and maybe one day I would be literary editor.

You may be wondering, if you are under 50, what the Sunday Correspondent is or was. Well, exactly. It was, as the keener among you will have worked out, a newspaper, a nice, liberal one, which appeared – the clue is in the name – on Sundays. And then one day it didn’t. So within a fairly short period of time I went from having two jobs to having none, and since then I have not troubled the bank by having more money than I know what to do with.

Oh, I get by. There are many, many others much, much worse off than I am. But it was quite wonderful, once again, to be able to do things such as go to restaurants, develop a fairly serious port habit and generally not scrounge.

My munificence to my children was lavish, for once. They’re not daft, though, and they knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t last, and when all those horrible bills that come at the beginning of the year came at the beginning of the year, the status quo ante reasserted itself, and I am going to have to rein things in once more. Rather fewer plates of eggs Benedict for breakfast at the posh eatery in Baker Street, and rather more bowls of Rice Krispies instead.

Or I could find a rich woman. This is the traditional lifeline for the indigent hack, or at least it used to be. Jeffrey Bernard, my sort-of predecessor, would just sit in the Coach and Horses, and sooner or later, after he had put out a distress call in his column, in would come another woman who saw romance in the life of the penniless barfly, and he would be OK again for a while. However, he was writing in the Spectator, which tends to circulate among people with money. I can’t pull the same trick off here, for obvious reasons.

I also wonder if something has changed in the nature of wealth. People who have the stuff these days generally don’t pass it on to people who don’t. The days of the patron are over. What they pass on instead is either impertinent and unwanted advice or simply a dirty look. (Naturally this does not include those kind souls who have been kind enough to help me out towards the end of awkward months in the past.)

But I had my time in the sun for a while, and very pleasant it was, too. I could have saved up the modest book advance for a rainy day but as far as I can see it’s always a rainy day around the Hovel, so what the heck, I thought. Also, it would be very much not in the spirit of the Prix Goncourt or the Jack Trevor Story Memorial Cup, the terms of which dictate that the prize money must be spent in two weeks with nothing to show for it.

I was awarded the Jack Trevor Story prize last year – or possibly the year before that, it’s all a bit hazy – and I like to think that I maintain a standard of fecklessness whether I’m being rewarded for it or not. And the sum involved, I should add, is not big, and two-thirds of it is being withheld until the book is written, and then published.

It’s a fair deal, though, and I’m not grumbling. I have made my bed, and I must lie in it, although I didn’t realise that it would have so many Rice Krispies in it. You try eating cereal in bed without spilling any. The only real problem with doing so, it occurs to me, is that I don’t think there are many women, rich or not, who would be attracted by the prospect of sharing a bed with me and my breakfast. And I can’t say I blame them.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge