the world beyond four walls


We could end famine if we cut food waste by a quarter – so why don’t we?

By Jonathan Kent/The Guardian

As Miss Piggy once sagely advised: “Never eat more than you can lift.” The trouble is that we seem to buy food as though we intend to do just this and as a result a huge amount goes to waste.

According to the UN, developed countries throw away around 30-40% of all food purchased. And if food waste was cut by a quarter, world famine could be solved. Here in the UK, of the 41m tonnes of food that is bought each year, 15m is wasted.

Supermarkets have an interest in avoiding waste because margins on fresh produce tend to be quite tight. If you make 25p for every £1 of broccoli sold you have to sell three pieces to make up for the loss from one gone bad. So if you have noticed fewer items with reduced stickers, it’s because they’re getting a grip. What waste remains is at least partly driven by consumers expecting fresh food items to be constantly available and stacked in attractive displays – both factors pushing food retailers to order more than they can sell.

The biggest contributor to our food-waste shame is household rubbish, which accounts for almost half the food thrown away in the UK. Of course many of us make bad decisions about food, especially when we’re hungry, over-ordering in restaurants and over-buying in shops. The most primitive parts of our brains, faced with feast, react as though famine were just around the corner.

And yet the game seems to be stacked against consumers. Supermarkets may strive to eliminate spoilage while food is in their supply chain, but once you’ve paid for something it’s not their problem. They’d argue, not unfairly, that they have tried to ensure the food you buy is as fresh as possible to give you the best possible chance to consume it before it goes bad. Back in 2010 Tesco even briefly experimented with a “buy one, get one free later” scheme to help reduce waste. But for the most part, food retail is structured and incentivised to get us to buy as much as possible, regardless of whether we actually need it.

In the developing world only 6-15% of food gets thrown out despite poorer infrastructure, less reliable logistics, hotter climates and inferior refrigeration. Indeed weight for weight, in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and south and south-east Asia, people waste only around a tenth of what we do. The overwhelming differentiator seems to be the value that we attach to food. Having a full fridge to cater to our every whim and those of our families seems more important than not having a full bin.

Until we truly know what it is like not to have enough (and while too many people in this wealthy country of ours have been finding out, few of us really know what it’s like to go without) we’ll continue to throw away food in obscene quantities. And neither technology nor the sight of people leaving lands of not enough for places of plenty is likely to change that.


All about food security

This is for those who have been researching on the issue of food security:


Singapore to offer US$200,000 to support countries providing help to Rohingyas

The Singapore Government will offer an initial contribution of US$200,000 (S$267,000) through ASEAN to support the efforts of countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia that have been aiding Rohingya refugees, said Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Saturday (May 23).

Singapore is concerned about the situation and welcomed efforts by countries, in particular Malaysia and Indonesia, which agreed to provide temporary shelter for the Rohingyas, said Mr Shanmugam.

He said the financial aid is part of an ASEAN-led initiative, adding that Singapore is prepared to consider further assistance, if there are specific requests.

Mr Shanmugam said the Rohingya crisis has raised two key issues – one is how to help those currently on boats and stranded at sea, while the other is the need to deal with the problem at its source.

This would require looking at living conditions created by countries of origin as well as the criminal organisations putting them on boats, subjecting them to terrible conditions. That, he added, is a “more serious problem” because tens and thousands of refugees could potentially suffer.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that the countries where the refugees originated from should take responsibility, and both ASEAN and the international community needs to address this issue.

Singapore’s contribution comes days after the Government said it is unable to accept any refugees or those seeking political asylum because it is a small country with limited land.

Over the past week, countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have provided shelter to Rohingya refugees who have landed on their shores. Food and medical aid were also provided.

Up to 2,000 migrants are thought to be stranded in the Bay of Bengal, many at risk of falling victim to people smugglers. Most are Muslim Rohingyas from the western Rakhine state in Myanmar.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said finding and saving the lives of those migrants should be a “top priority”.


Without ensuring universal access to water, there can be no food security

The Guardian

Ensuring universal access to water is vital in order to address food security and improve nutrition, yet recognition of the links between water and food are too often missed.

A major report on water for food security and nutrition, launched on Friday by the high-level panel of experts on food security and nutrition (HLPE), is the first comprehensive effort to bring together access to water, food security and nutrition. This report goes far beyond the usual focus on water for agriculture.

Safe drinking water and sanitation are fundamental to human development and wellbeing. Yet inadequate access to clean water undermines people’s nutrition and health through water-borne diseases and chronic intestinal infections.

The landmark report, commissioned by the committee on world food security (CFS), not only focuses on the need for access, it also makes important links between land, water and productivity. It underlines the message that water is integral to human food security and nutrition, as well as the conservation of forests, wetlands and lakes upon which all humans depend.

Policies and governance issues on land, water and food are usually developed in isolation. Against a backdrop of future uncertainties, including climate change, changing diets and water-demand patterns, there has to be a joined-up approach to addressing these challenges. Read More


Singapore not in a position to accept refugees: MHA May 2015

Singapore will not be accepting refugees or people seeking political asylum, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday (May 15).

“As a small country with limited land, Singapore is not in a position to accept any persons seeking political asylum or refugee status, regardless of their ethnicity or place of origin,” said an MHA spokesperson, in response to queries from Channel NewsAsia.

More than 700 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar arrived in Indonesia on Friday after fishermen rescued them from their sinking boat off Aceh province. Indonesian police said they were pushed away by the Malaysian navy to the border of Indonesian waters.

More than 1,000 migrants have also landed in Malaysia.

The Malaysian branch of the UN refugee agency UNHCR on Friday urged the regional governments to act urgently to help the migrants stranded at sea. Meanwhile, Indonesia said it will follow international regulation on illegal migrants in handling the refugees.


Migrants rescued from sinking boat off Indonesia’s Aceh

It happened in Europe. Now it’s happening much closer to home.

Now you can read more about what’s happened here:



Nepal earthquake: experts knew disaster was coming

Just a week ago, about 50 earthquake and social scientists from around the world came to Kathmandu, Nepal, to figure out how to get this poor, congested, overdeveloped, shoddily built area to prepare better for the big one, a repeat of the 1934 temblor that levelled the city. They knew they were racing the clock, but they did not know when what they feared would strike.

“It was sort of a nightmare waiting to happen,” said seismologist James Jackson, head of the earth sciences department at the University of Cambridge. “Physically and geologically what happened is exactly what we thought would happen.” But he did not expect the massive earthquake that struck on Saturday to happen so soon. The magnitude 7.9 earthquake killed more than 2,000 and counting and caused widespread destruction.

“I was walking through that very area where that earthquake was and I thought at the very time that the area was heading for trouble,” said Jackson, lead scientist for Earthquakes Without Frontiers, a group that tries to make Asia more able to bounce back from these disasters and was having the meeting. Read More


Why don’t you care who made your clothes?

BY Caroline Criado-Perez/New Statesman/22 April 2015

It’s the fluff, explains Bessy, a factory worker in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novelNorth and South. “Little bits, as fly off fro’ the cotton, when they’re carding it, and fill the air till it looks all fine white dust. They say it winds round the lungs, and tightens them up. Anyhow, there’s many a one as works in a carding-room, that falls into a waste, coughing and spitting blood, because they’re just poisoned by the fluff.”

It was not that long ago that death by byssinosis was a fairly common occupational hazard. Gaskell’s book was published in the 1850s – and it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that legislation addressed adequate ventilation in UK. Since then, of course, most textile work has been outsourced abroad – and along with it, occupational death.

“In our department, it’s full of jeans and black dust”, says one worker in the 2013 report Breathless For Blue Jeans: Health Hazards in China’s Denim Factories. “It is difficult to breathe.” The dust comes from sandblasting the denim to achieve a worn look. Although the practice has been banned, it continues behind locked doors, and workers continue to die from silicosis, a fatal lung disease.

Silicosis is not the only danger facing the modern factory worker. A 2014 study of garment workers in Bangladesh found “the majority” suffered from ill health, ranging from musculoskeletal disorders, through to hepatitis – this latter from a lack of clean drinking water. In Tansy Hoskin’s book Stitched Up, she reveals that in the Pearl River Delta in China some 40,000 fingers are severed each year in work-related accidents. And of course, this week sees the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Read More


Xenophobic violence in South Africa

What exactly is xenophobia? A spate of xenophobic attacks have gripped South Africa. Watch what is happening in South Africa now and how the rest of Africa is reacting to this violence here.



New Mediterranean migrant distress calls as EU meets

It was just thist morning that I shared with one class about how a boat, which was carrying about 700 migrants, had sunk off Libya. Only 28 of these migrants had been rescued. Now, it seems there’s another boat, also carrying migrant workers, in distress.

Who are these migrants? Why is this North Africa-Italy route so deadly? Why is the European Union now urgently having talks about this situation?

You can read more about this here.

You can also watch this video to understand the situation a little better: