Our Food … Is In The Trash

Despite huge amounts of food still being wasted every day in the world, initiatives in various countries demonstrate growing public awareness about this modern-day abomination.

Ants on a doughnut.
Ants on a doughnut.
Ignacio Zuleta


BOGOTÁ â€" The amounts of food discarded every day could feed the world's hungry 10 times over, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has observed.

Three years ago I reflected on the ghastly figures concerning this tragic waste. I lived for 12 years in a monastery where I became accustomed to seeing monks utilize virtually every bit of food. They would find something to do with vegetable skin and inedible bits.

The impact of wasting food is not just moral, financial or social. It's also environmental, given the amount of water and fertilizers used to produce it, the fuel burned in trash collection and the greenhouse gases these processes generate, which in turn foment more poverty.

The scandal is that the planet can evidently produce food for everyone, but our depraved consumer culture and typical ignorance mean that our food is instead being discarded in trash bags or being left to rot in fields because, for one example, the potatoes don't meet size standards. It's certainly a sin.

The figures here haven't changed much in recent years, but fortunately there does seem to be a fledgling process of reflection. People are speaking about effectively fighting food waste in many parts of the world. The French have banned markets from dumping food that's approaching its expired date or that doesn't meet some unrealistic aesthetic standard.

French film director Agnès Varda made two beautiful documentaries about "gleaners," whether they're dumpster divers or junk scavengers. In the Book of Leviticus, the Hebrews are told not to pick fallen harvest fruit, which should be left to the poor and hungry travelers.

Still-life with dumpster dive. Photo: Starr

In the past 15 years, many groups have emerged and are contributing to better public awareness about the problem: chefs who use ingredients discarded for aesthetic or other irrational reasons, young people and adults who live off what they find, or supermarkets that no longer throw out food. People are starting to talk about the size of packaging, and packaging itself, while "solidarity fridges" are emerging, allowing people who need leftover food items to help themselves.

There has also been a growing number of food banks that receive donations or buy products that are about to expire to distribute to the needy. There is an organized network of these banks in Colombia. But individuals continue to throw out about half of what they buy.

We all must understand the need to safeguard food, to draw up more modest grocery lists, to eat up our purchases and accept "flawed" fruit and vegetables. We must monitor and gauge what we throw out, use the edible bits of our fruit and vegetables, and establish habits that will help curb humanity's colossal food waste.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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