'Stephen, can you find a home for hundreds of bananas?!'
This unusual question was posed to me last week when a supermarket in London dramatically overstocked on bananas. Hundreds and hundreds of them were left unsold and faced the fate of the rubbish bin - the tension was high and the clock was ticking. The baking of bountiful batches of banana bread, whilst delicious, only made use of a handful of them, so I called up local charities to see if anyone could take any off our hands. The British Red Cross, who provide for those in food poverty, were delighted to take a few hundred, which was excellent. Many of the rest were given out to various members of the local community.
Thankfully we were able to find a good use for these bananas, but similar cases of overstocking occur all the time, and much of it ends up in landfills. As I discussed in my previous blog, the temptation to overstock is a perfectly natural one and the practice of hoarding food has directly aided the development of human society throughout the ages. However, where natural instinct urges us to hoard more than we can ever eat, divine wisdom might have something else to say on the matter.
The Cost of Bananas
We would do well to remember that when a banana is chucked out, it is not merely one small product that is wasted. An entire agricultural process, from cultivation to transportation, is wasted because of overstocking. Think it through:
- Firstly, a seed is sown. At this stage, space is used, one of the most obviously finite resources we humans have. In fact, space is one of the most pressing concerns for agriculturalists, as across the globe, rainforests are cut down in an effort to find more space to grow crops.
- That space is then given food and water, and perhaps a generous dose of fertiliser and pesticides. The use of water incurs its own waste, from being recycled, cleaned, and transported to the plantation.
- The bananas are then harvested, requiring hours of intensive work in the heat.
- After being harvested, the bananas are transported from plantation to harbour, then across the seas, and eventually to the supermarket shelves. Consider the packaging, the cardboard and plastic which itself has been made somewhere and transported across the globe.
- Lastly, the careful efforts of the supermarket employee, laying out the bananas in a delightful display, are wasted as the next day she has to take them off the shelf and throw them away.
What is going to alter this mindless cycle of production and waste? What can give us hope that our culture might change? Perhaps awareness is all that is missing. Some might think that we’d all be motivated to make a difference, if only we were more aware. However, as the brilliant satire of the ‘gap yah guy’ goes to show, more ‘awah-ness’ does not necessarily change culture and action. If we are honest with ourselves, we’re all aware that awareness is not enough! So what is stopping us, if not mere ignorance?
Too selfish to change?
The modern, globalised economy has been described as 'a new kind of neo-colonialism' (Waste, p. 87), a new empire, in which money is our emperor, and extravagant quantities of food are grown in poor countries to fill landfills in rich countries. If this is the case, we are like rich aristocrats at a perpetual dinner party, taking vol-au-vents off the platters of poor, overworked servants, and throwing them straight into the bin. If so, could it be that we actually don’t want this self-serving, wasteful economy to change? Could it possibly be that we are just selfish creatures?
If this is so (and that is a big ‘if’), we need a major social upheaval. We need to learn how to be completely selfless. We need to value the welfare of a stranger halfway round the world over our own. We need to cultivate a global society in which one is not born into privilege based on ethnicity or social class, but in which there is total equality.
What a giant challenge this poses. I don’t know about you, but my only hope of such major social change comes from the message of the coming Kingdom of God, as taught by Jesus Christ. It is a mental hope, for a mental world.
It is too much for me to comprehend how such social upheaval will occur. Luckily, we have a more pressing and tangible problem on our hands - what will we do about all this food waste? Here are a few tips:
- We can make sure we do not take more than we need.
- We can put pressure on the corporations not to overstock and to put measures in place to donate their surplus stock.
- We can support the work of organisations that seek to reduce food waste.
Not long after the Israelites were freed from the slavery of the Egyptians, they started to grumble about their food - ‘If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted’. When God heard their complaints He gave them manna from Heaven - but commanded them not to take more than they needed. For the Israelites, there were two options; delight in lavish feasts but be captive to the Egyptians, or have their freedom, and humbly depend on God. The same options are presented to us today; would we rather feast on our own wealth, whilst locked in a cage of ignorance and greed? Or do we dare to free ourselves from this captivating global economy and humbly rely on the God who provides?
The above photo is taken from Tristram Stuart's book Waste, with the caption: 'Thousands of imperfect bananas lie in a drainage ditch, dumped by United Fruit. Rio Estrella, Costa Rica'