A wasteful Christmas in Australia
“We get so hungry, we eat each other alive”
Working in retail over Christmas means screaming children, angry parents and worst of all: Christmas carols. Yes, from the first week of December shop workers have to listen to the same carols all the time. The only upside is that it gives you something to nag about to your co-workers. Yesterday, one of my workmates was complaining about how sad the Band Aid song Do they Know its Christmas Time At All? was, and how it depressed her. I was left standing on the opposite counter thinking: “that’s the whole the point.”
Band Aid’s carol is now almost twenty years old. Whether or not it made an impact on African poverty is up for debate. What it has done is raise awareness of extreme Third World Poverty in the West. But what about poverty in our own backyard?
The irony of this story is that the shop that was blaring Geldof’s song every hour is playing a role in keeping people hungry. The shop I work at is in an inner city suburb of Brisbane. Our clientele is wealthy, as our prices are quite high. We are also are often visited by homeless men, who sleep in the park behind the shop. They are always well behaved and are quite regular visitors. The staff has nicknames for them like ‘Pepsi Man’ (this man buys 8 bottles of Pepsi Max from us every day). Yet, at the same time as we are serving them at the front door, we are throwing kilos and kilos of food into the bins out the back.
Every day we throw out litres of milk, loaves and loaves of bread, and an assortment of veggies, fruits, jams, soft drink, yoghurt and countless other products that are passed their used by dates. The waste is unbelievable. Some of it we have to throw out because of bad shelf rotation, bad storage or bad estimates of ordering. A lot of the food goes passed its use by or best before dates which means, even if it is ok, that we cannot sell it. A lot of fruit and vegetables are discarded as they do not look like they are meant to, or are slightly squashy or spoilt. Whatever the reason, the food ends up in the bin.
I have worked at larger supermarkets where the same things happen. Food is wasted. It ends up in the bin, which are then locked to keep ‘dumpster divers’ and crowds out. Watching homeless men scavenge amongst cigarette butts for scraps while good food sits in a locked bin next to them is heartbreaking. If we cannot redress the inequality between the haves and haves-not in my suburb, how can we eradicate inequality in the wider world?
The first step is to be honest about what is going on. The amount of food that is being wasted throughout Brisbane is horrific. If we take Sunday as a typical day in my shop we throw out 12 tubs of yoghurt, two tubs of mousse, every type of salad, fruit and vegetable, six 2L bottles of milk, and sixty bottles of soft drink. This is at one small store in one morning. This food is going straight to the landfill. If we add in the amount of food each person who shops at the store wastes at home, we can see that only a very small amount of food that enters our store also enters people’s tummy’s. The second is to be aware of the less fortunate in our community. There are at least six homeless men who regularly visit our store. They sleep in the park where they are regularly ‘moved’ to make way for children’s sporting events, as they are considered a danger and annoyance. It hit 39 degrees in Brisbane today. With shelter it was horrible, without it, it would have been unbearable.
I work in a suburb where, for whatever reasons (and we can debate these till we are blue in the face), some inhabitants drive expensive cars and live in houses worth well over 1 million dollars while others sleep outside and go hungry. At a shop level there are things that we can do to improve our wastage. This is my own battle. Your battle is to not waste too much food this Christmas.
When you hear “Do they know its Christmas time at all?” blaring from a shop, don’t think that the problem is far away. It could be on your doorstep.