SAC # 81

Sorting through the Rubbish: Early reflections on food waste and sustainability 



TIME | 25 February 2010, 4pm onwards

LOCATION | CSAFE Seminar Room, , Dunedin

SPEAKER | Hugh Campbell & Anne Murcott


‘Waste: uncovering the global food scandal’ is the title of a paperback published a few months ago. Its author, Tristram Stuart reports vast quantities of seemingly edible food is being thrown away by UK households. Supermarkets are responsible, he claims, for a vast amount of waste, both by what he considers unduly strict adherence to ‘use by’ dates and by their insistence on certain cosmetic standards for fresh fruit and vegetables. In the process, Stuart castigates individuals for their ignorance and laziness and supermarkets for the absurdities of their standards and their abuse of their power in the market. His analysis typifies a new wave of ‘waste’ politics – from freeganism to anti-corporate claims - which seeks to situate waste as central to challenges to global sustainability.

Our purpose in this seminar is to present an outline of our thinking about food waste in which we are trying to create a more complex way of thinking about waste. Only a matter of a couple of weeks old, our efforts so far include topics such as considering assessments of its extent and reviewing the academic literature on waste in general as a means of reflecting on its applicability or otherwise to food waste. In particular we propose three strands to a more developed intellectual approach to the matter. This approach replaces individualistic explanations with resort to analyses of practice and of the cultural and structural. First we propose that edibility deserves to be inspected culturally, second edibility needs to be understood in the context of the long history of the emergence of regulation and third edibility is to be interpreted structurally, in the light of the transformation of agri-food systems. Once these revised ways of looking at and researching waste have been reframed, it will hopefully be more possible to re-examine some of the sustainability claims being made about waste by authors like Stuart.

About the Speaker

Prof Anne Murcott is currently Special Professor, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham and Visiting Professorial Fellow, City University of London. She is also currently a member of the General Advisory Committee on Science to UK Food Standards Agency. She has spent much of her career publishing and evaluating the canon of the Sociology of Food. This is her 5th visit to the University of Otago - which she seems to like.

Assoc Prof Hugh Campbell is the Director of CSAFE. His prior collaboration with Prof Murcott has examined the linkages between sociology of agriculture and sociology of food, and the audit politics of kosher and halal labelling.


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