Tristram Stuart on His Disco Soup Event Starting at 5pm Tonight

by Julie Besonen
British food activist and writer Tristram Stuart is hosting Disco Soup tonight, a free DIY cook-off and dance party to raise awareness on how much good food is being wasted while billions go hungry. Disco Soup events have been held twice in London's Trafalgar Square, plus cities like Amsterdam, Sydney and Dublin. This is both its New York City and U.S. debut. The party goes from 5pm-9pm at SuperPier on West 15th Street and the Westside Highway. Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, and founder of Feeding the 5000, spoke to us via Skype about why we should all grab our peelers and go. Free soup for everyone!

How many people are you expecting tonight?

A few hundred. It's a way of celebrating taking action on food waste. Our organization, Feeding the 5000, first partnered with the movement in Paris and did one in front of the Hôtel de Ville. We had 2000 Parisians in the pouring rain making and eating soup and dancing. It got a lot of media attention.

How does it work?

Disco Soup is not owned by anyone. It's an open source, global format. [That's] the secret of its rapid replication. No one is trying to control this. Everything is free and anyone can do it. That's the entire point. If people get excited about the campaign against food waste, it will spread like a rash across this country.

What will you make your soup out of tonight?

We got a couple of tons of vegetables from various places. Earlier this week we went off to Donaldson Farm in New Jersey with a team of fantastic volunteers. We collected crops that were about to be mowed back into the soil or left to rot -- lettuce, watermelon, peppers, eggplant, a huge abundance of stuff. They were rejected because of cosmetic standards. Retailers and consumers are a little fussy and expect things to look perfect.

They're slightly blemished but otherwise perfectly fine to eat?

The idea of perfection is very entrenched in the supermarkets. In England we launched a campaign on ugly fruits and vegetables, and it's now the fastest growing segment in the food market, saving 300,000 tons of food a year. We met with buyers and figured out how to go about marketing it, either selling it cheap or celebrating its [ugliness]. My principles do not include wasting one-third of the world's food supply while people are going hungry. It's time we woke up and called [on] businesses and individuals to account for this completely unnecessary behavior.

How did you end up caring so much about food waste?

I'm concerned about the impact we're having on the environment and world hunger. At 15 I started raising pigs and fed them on food waste because I couldn't afford pig feed. I went to my school canteen, the local baker and greengrocer and noticed they had food perfectly fit for human consumption. It grew into a public campaign.

How much food do you think we're wasting?

I did a calculation in my book, including shops, restaurants and homes, and if theoretically you were able to recapture all the food that's thrown out it's enough to feed the billion hungry people on the planet two times over.

People should bring their own knives and peelers tonight?

We've got knives. Peelers are fine to bring [them]. I'm not advocating that people carry cleavers through the streets of New York or be caught with knives in their handbags if they go out clubbing afterwards.

And there will be dancing?

Absolutely. We'll have three or four DJs.

What's next?

I've been keeping pigs off and on for 20 years and we have a new campaign in London to get rid of the ban of feeding food waste to pigs. I moved to London from the countryside two years ago and brought my bees with me and built a couple of vegetable gardens. I was very sad to leave my pigs behind. Actually, I didn't abandon them, I put them in the freezer.

So you're not a vegetarian.

It's not morally necessary to be one. I happily kill and eat wild animals if they're in abundance and it doesn't harm the ecosystem as a whole. Most meat is being produced in ludicrous ways that harm the environment. Farmers in the EU are forced to feed their pigs increasingly expensive pig feed instead of all the good food that ends up in a landfill. It's not sustainable. To tell the story, we're rearing eight pigs on food waste in London -- which takes us about five minutes to find within a mile -- and we'll have a gigantic pig roast feast in Trafalgar Square on November 21st.

I wish I could go.

I would like to see it happen here.


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