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On ‘Postcapitalism’ and Recent Events – #Nice, #Turkey

I’ve just finished reading the book Postcapitalism by Paul Mason, and some
recent global events have got me thinking about the book’s arguments.
As America becomes more polarised, We’ve also just had two pretty seismic events unfold: the slaughter in Nice and the coup attempt in Turkey.

Paul Mason commentates regularly on the knock-on economic impacts of such happenings as the economics editor for Britain’s Channel 4 News. His journalistic written style perhaps explains why a book which discusses sometimes arcane economic theory is such a compelling read. 

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

His basic argument is that the pace of infotech development over recent years has changed everything. Knowledge is increasingly free, and readily available at our fingertips. For example, the first I heard of the terror attack in Nice was while pootering about on Twitter: the news of the attack was not originally verifiable, but as it shot to the top trending topic it was clear that something very big and very bloody was unfolding in that city. 

Mason sees the free diffusion of knowledge (not just via social media but in the free exchange of ideas and science more broadly) as such a challenge to the privatise-at-all-costs mantra of neoliberalism that it could topple capitalism as we know it. He goes back to Marx’s Grundrisse and the great German philosopher’s meditation on how, if there were ever a machine invented that would never wear out, capitalism would crumble. He then points to the revolutionary potential of zero cost products in an economy based on information.

Mason did not have to convince me of the apocalyptic possibilities of capitalism if it continues as it does presently. Irreversible climate change, environmental destruction, the mass unavailability of lifesaving drugs, a new chasm between the ultra wealthy 1% and the rest of us: capitalism has to be altered, otherwise we, and the succeeding generations, are all heading to hell in a handcart.

But it does not necessarily follow that the revolution in infotech will deliver Postcapitalism, or even a better capitalism. The Apple corporation, for example, constructs a walled garden around free music, literature, ideas and art by forcing people to buy a variety of its products in order to harness them at all. Mason, to give him his due, notes this; more importantly, though, he notes the prospect of governments clamping down on this unprivatised brave new world.

STATE CLAMPDOWNS

Here lies the danger. The spot on the Promenade des Anglais on which the Nice killer fell is now littered with detritus and people assemble to spit on it. The killer’s actions, in the popular mindset, are not now human but monstrous. With the perpetrators of terrorist events commonly dehumanised and dubbed monstrous, the possibility of state crackdown is surely more alive than ever. 

When senior politicians like French President Francois Hollande are booed at commemorations, as happened in Nice last week, the tempting solution for the political establishment is to clamp down harder. Ever harder. Harder on the terrorists, yes, but also harder on the freedoms Mason lauds, and all in the name of security. Think of the Chinese government’s regular, outrageous censorship of the Internet. Think of Turkey’s President Erdogan and his tendency to do the same, only enhanced by the coup attempt in his country at the weekend. Think, too, of British prime minister Theresa May’s support for the UK’s proposed ‘snooper’s charter’. Ironically, Erdogan denounced the coup via FaceTime, the sort of free info / person-to-person platform Mason lauds and the Turkish president loathes.

INTERVENTION
Coming back to Mason, he has been dismissed by some as an unreconstructed Trot, but he does attack many of the old leftist shibboleths. The early twentieth century socialists – Trotsky, Luxembourg, Lenin – were wrong to perceive the imminent collapse of capitalism, he claims. He also doubts the ability of centralised state planning to effect the desired-for transition to Postcapitalism. The people, individuals, and not the omnicompetent state, will deliver Postcapitalism, says Mason. He wants a ‘Wikistate’, run like Wikipedia with just a couple of hundred administrators overseeing a wealth of freedom. 
However, and more broadly, we are actually witnessing the rise of politicians promising more state intervention, not less – Donald Trump is a good example, a cowboy pinup of the aggressive business world like Reagan, but hardly a neoliberal in the classic sense. With Brexit, with the resurgence of the European right, anxiety over uncontrolled immigration etc it seems people are demanding more intervention, not less. The price of greater security, then, may well be the jettisoning of the free anticapitalist ethos that Mason celebrates.
BRAVE NEW WORLD

There are other flaws, to my mind, with Mason’s thesis. But his cry for a different world borne of different thinking – one in which individuals all receive a flat wage and so do not have to perform ‘bullshit work’, in which banks are held to account and responsible and sustainable business practice rewarded – is one which should be embraced and not dismissed haughtily.

And yet. And yet. At times this book, for all its historical sweep, seems trapped in an intellectual cul de sac. Mason’s Postcapitalism, when he gets around to defining it, seems to be a mixture of the free market, the interventionist state, and – lording it above all equals – the techno geek. It all feels a bit faddish, a feeling I first got with Mason last year when reading a Guardian piece by him on how the hipster brewing company ‘Brewdog’ is an example ofPostcapitalism in making its recipes freely available and offering easily accessible share options. Oh please.

As the events in Turkey show, in this fast paced ever changing world, change is often effected in quite traditional ways: helicopters, television pronouncements, angry mobs. Great change in the world is certainly greatly desirable, but it may just arrive via more established means.

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The infantilisation of the Brexit debate

This morning I was listening to a radio debate around British membership of the European Union when one of the participants dropped a bombshell. We’d all heard the big news that, during the week, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s negotiations with his fellow European leaders had dragged on so long that breakfast was postponed, then lunch, then dinner. But now came the revelation that in the absence of formal dining what had ‘fuelled’ Cameron and his team during the tortuous process  was Haribo Fangtastics.

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For the uninitiated, Fangtastics are a chewy jelly snack manufactured by a German (yes, German) confectionery giant. A playground favourite, they take your tongue on a sensory journey from extreme sweetness to extreme sourness. And they pack a fizz, too. Perfect sugar hit to get you through Double Maths or, if you’re Mr Cameron, high powered political negotiations.

Fangtastics-gate illustrates the fact that, thus far, the debate around whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union has been characterised by infantilised rhetoric.

By now, we’re used to this when it comes to politics. ‘It’s just too boring’ fret television and radio producers. As a solution you get programmes like BBC’s Daily Politics, all cheap graphics and smiles to break up the serious stuff. The Daily Politics duly delivered today: Cameron’s cabinet were crudely depicted as rival sets of football fans, with bobble hats and scarfs bearing either the words ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ depending on their stance. Chortle.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage – leading figure in the ‘out’ campaign – has in the last couple of weeks delivered rejoinders to Cameron of which a school bully would be proud. He first called him ‘a chicken’ over his trifling reforms to Britain’s conditions of EU membership. He then went further in deploying schoolboy taunts: Mr Cameron, Farage informed us, had secured but ‘tinsy winsy’ reforms.

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Over on Sky News, anchor Dermot Murnaghan was busy reducing the debate to a matter of personalities. Boris Johnson versus David Cameron, Murnaghan told viewers, would be like ‘a superhero movie’, ‘like King Kong fighting Godzilla’. Sounds light? Well, this was actually taking the debate up a notch. The previous segment of the show had featured ‘in’ campaigner June Sarpong (she formerly noted for presenting shows about pop music on Channel 4 which brought with it tough interviews with the likes of Britney Spiers over what she eats for breakfast). June’s argument for staying in the EU seemed to be largely based on an image of ‘out’ campaigners Nigel Farage and George Galloway linking arms. She goaded the Tory ‘out’ campaigner sitting beside her in the Sky Newsroom with that classic argument that goes something like this: ‘Euuhhhhh! Look at the state of your friends’. Or, to directly quote Sarpong, ‘look at who you hang out with!’

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What does all this suggest about the state of political rhetoric?

It speaks to the fact that the British negotiations over questions such as migrant benefits, sovereignty, movement of labour, law-making etc actualy turned out – unsurprisingly – to be slow and boring. Very boring.

Now, The News doesn’t like this. So even the most high-brow news magazine shows stooped to the tabloid. Thus on Thursday BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning politics show ‘Today’ wheeled out an excitable American commentator to spice things up. Suddenly a boring set of negotiations sounded like Superbowl showdown. ‘Cameron’s going in there on the offense’ he enthused ‘and how is Denmark going to respond?’ Pass the popcorn!

More worryingly, it shows that some of the profound consequences that will follow the British people’s decision on European have been reduced to the sound-bite and dumbed down to an alarming degree.

I would argue that this is part of a broader infantilisation at work in society. Young-ish people are penalised and neutered by house prices, age-geared benefit restrictions, the early debt burden of study, and austerity politics. They become infantilised, some living with mum and dad well into their thirties and forties (and beyond?) because there is little other option for them. They’re also spoon-fed a diet of computer games and superhero movies so that infantilisation has become masked beneath the new respectability of the 40 year old nerd.

Does the infantilisation of the debate around Brexit, with cartoonish and pop-friendly rhetoric, reflect this? I would discuss this further, but the X Factor has just come on the telly. Sorry. Have to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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Walter has got me thinking about Aunt Julia

There was a time when, if you wanted entertainment that differed from the Anglo-American mainstream, you had to take the following steps:

  1. Enter the video store – Blockbuster Video, or somewhere similar.
  2. Fight your way past the popcorn and chocolate and sweets they’d amass at the door.
  3. Search for ‘World Cinema’ or similarly titled shelf, usually at the back, in a darkened corner where only the customers wearing anoraks dwelt.
  4. Approach said shelf gingerly.
  5. Put up with glances from fellow customers and staff that implied a) “you’re a pretentious sod” or b) “Why’s he looking at subtitled movies? Weirdo.” or c) “What a sex case. He must be looking for pornography amongst the French flicks.”

blockbuster

Happily, such scenarios no longer occur. I am no longer in danger of being labelled ‘The Blockbuster Prowler’. The video store is no more.

To be clear, I don’t always make a bee-line for the foreign films. Don’t get me wrong now, I enjoy a good ol’ shoot-em-up as much as the next man. But there’s only so much Hollywood you can take. I’ve been researching the author Liam O’Flaherty recently, a reasonably famous yet under-appreciated Irish writer. Back in 1935 he wrote a book entitled Hollywood Cemetery based on his experience as a screenwriter there. As the title suggests, it explores the vacuity and money-driven emptiness that is Hollywood. I’m sure the same goes for the American movie industry today but, by all accounts, it’s 100 times worse. Sometimes it works, Hollywood, and more often it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it’s time to turn to the subtitled stuff.

18895  liam o'flaherty

Now I’ve a decent command of Spanish and German, but I still struggle with fast-paced dialogue on screen if it’s not in English. So I am a fan of subtitles. And I’m not alone in this, apparently, judging by the cult success of Nordic Noir in the last few years.

Now there’s a great, free-to-view repository of foreign TV series to turn to on the long dark rainy January nights.

It’s called ‘Walter Presents’ and it’s accessible via Channel 4’s ‘All 4’ platform. who is Walter? Well, as you can find out right here – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/walter-presents/videos/all/meet-walter – he is a film boffin (pictured below) appointed by Channel 4 to source the best foreign language drama series for British audiences. I don’t know if he’s real, but he looks ginky enough to be, so we’ll assume he is.

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So, the story goes that Walter trawls the televisual world looking for great stuff that’s not in English. You then access them (thanks Walter) via ‘All 4’.

So far, then, Walter’s provided for my viewing pleasure an Argentinian cop drama, Pure Evil; a French cop/football drama, Match Day, French political thriller Spin, and German historical drama Deutschland 83. There’s plenty more series up there on the website, but there are only so many hours in the day, you know.

I struggled with Pure Evil (Malicia in Spanish) because it appeared like a Latin American telenovella at times, it was that bad. The plot was totally one-dimensional and dreadfully implausible. Then I realised it’s meant to be a black comedy (or at least I hope it is). When you settle in to this realisation, it’s OK because then it’s clear why the lead character – a grumpy bald man-baby (below) – couldn’t solve a murder case if he had the combined assistance of Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Miss Marple, Poirot and her off Murder She Wrote. He spends most of his time yelling in grief, anger and frustration, does the protagonist which, when you realise that Malicia is played for laughs, is quite funny, because he consequently resembles more and more an actual baby. He also seems to live in a book shop and sometimes a swimming pool. It’s an odd one, then, but oddly watchable.

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Deutschland 83 has received a lot of media coverage and is the pick of the bunch, although its self-conscious efforts to incorporate every pop tune from the year 1983, every scrap of TV footage of political leaders, makes it a bit too obviously nostalgic.

The French efforts I’ve mentioned above, on the other hand, are poor.

Match Day again features a bunch of police who seem to inhabit a swimming pool-type building near the unceasingly grey and miserable northern French coast. They are investigating a stabbing at a football match. It’s pretty bleak and, when it comes down to it, pretty weak. Although, as I write this, I think I may be hatching my very own idea for a drama featuring police and swimming pools – some sort of underwater version of The Bill perhaps.

Don’t even get me started on Spin (below). I’ve only watched one episode so it’s unfair to judge, but the programme is already trying to convince me that spin doctors have a shred of integrity, loyalty, and even, unbelievably, nobility! Sorry, I just don’t think I can continue to watch stuff that is that wildly implausible even if it is full of Gallic kissing and shrugging.

All in all, though, this ‘Walter Presents’ is a good service. So much so that I’m sure they’ll start charging for you to view it soon, so you better watch ’em while you can.

Problem

My biggest problem is this, though: if you watch too many of these TV dramas your mind starts playing tricks on you.

I’m watching the French presidential candidate in Spin (above) and wondering how she went from being a humble East German housewife to a world political bruiser. Idiot! I’m mixing her up with the mum in Deutschland 83.

Then I’m watching Argentina’s most inept detective in Pure Evil and I’m wondering why he doesn’t just turn for assistance to his clever young female side-kick, the one who busted the paedophiles in the last episode. Trouble is, he can’t, because she is from a completely different series: Match Day.

It’s genuinely confusing if you over-watch these programmes, I’m warning you.

All of this got me thinking about the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa (I can hear the cries of “pretentious” again). One of Vargas Llosa’s most famous reflections on his work is this: “the writer of fiction wishes to replace the world as it is with another one entirely.”

On that note, there’s a debate about whether some of Vargas Llosa’s (above) works modern at all; are they, instead, postmodern? And so is my confused reaction to these overlapping series a postmodern one?

To explain, the example of Vargas Llosa’s masterpiece Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977):

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter has been described as a postmodern book. Why? Because its light tone is deceptive and, crucially, it features an unreliable narrator.

The scriptwriter of the title is a virtuoso Bolivian writer of several different soap operas who creates so many rich characters and plots that, in the end, characters start appearing all over the place. As this genius gradually loses his marbles due to overwork, he starts mistakenly writing in characters from one soap opera into another.

Like a dead character from Eastenders suddenly turning up, alive and well, on Hollyoaks and next week appearing in Coronation Street.

This goes on until, eventually, they all have to be killed off in catastrophic and unbelievable mass killings. The only way the scriptwriter can resolve his mess is by making them all the victims of a devastating volcanic eruption, or such like, because only then can he start again with a clean slate.

I suppose this is a bit like when British pastoral favourite Emmerdale had that episode with a plane crash which enabled the writers to kill off about a dozen characters.

So, if you indulge in ‘Walter Presents’ and find yourself getting confused, don’t worry. Embrace it. For perhaps that is what Walter wants. Perhaps he wants us all to be good little postmodernists. In fact, is he even real, this ‘Walter’? Either way, he’s got me thinking of Aunt Julia.

 

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The Adolf Hitler diet: the new foodie trend? #food #diet #fashion #hipster

Whatever about the current excitement over Corbynmania in Britain, there’s no doubt that the hottest political trend over the last few years has been the resurgence of the far right in Europe and beyond.

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Whether the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands it seems that being a quasi-fascist is firmly back in vogue.

Quite clearly, this political phenomenon has permeated popular culture. Now I can’t pretend to be up with fashion trends, but if I nip out for a loaf of bread or a pint of milk I’m sometimes so shocked at the haircuts and styles emerging from the barbers or clothes shop that I want to run away and join the nearest resistance cell.

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The musician Bryan Ferry once remarked that the Nazis had ‘great style’ and a solitary glance at a pack of stylish young men these days will confirm that fact. Many wouldn’t look out of place in the Third Reich. Take hip London brand ‘Boy’, still favoured by numerous A-listers despite its logo’s unmistakeable similarities to the Nazi Reichsadler.

Then there’s the ascent of the aggressive crew-cut or slicked-back undercut. Although not the exclusive preserve of the right wing, this style is sometimes dubbed the ‘SS cut’ and sported by many a trendy young fella.

But why should this apparent popular homage to national socialism be restricted to the boys? Why should they have all the fun?

When it comes to the girls of today, by contrast, it’s pretty evident that emulating the staid mantra of Kinder, Küche, Kirche associated with Nazism is not cool. At least in the fashion stakes. The wholesome dumpy German housewife look might be indulged in by pretty young things at events like Oktoberfest but outside Bavarian-themed pubs you don’t see it very often as a style choice for the fashion-conscious young woman.

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But don’t let this apparent gender disparity fool you!

We all know that dieting is more popular among women than men. And it’s in the arena of the latest cool diets – assisting you in looking your slender youthful best – that the girls give the boys a run for their money in paying seeming homage to the Nazis.

Let me explain … I refer, of course, to the most ‘with it’ dietary fads of today and their unacknowledged debt to – who else? – Adolf Hitler.

Now, one of the most influential role models for diet-conscious young gals today is ‘Deliciously Ella’ – Ella Woodward – who offers recipes sans wheat, meat and sugar. Heard of her? Like Nigella Lawson, she’s the daughter of a fairly right-leaning politician but just check out her website (http://deliciouslyella.com/) and it’s all peace, love and avocadoes and not a hint of Hitler and his dietary dreams.

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Then there’s Hemsley and Hemsley (http://www.hemsleyandhemsley.com/) Now they are a couple of slender sisters who basically just eat vegetables. Occasionally, ever so occasionally, meat creeps in. But they’re singing from the same hymn sheet as our Ella.

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‘Yeah, OK. I know Hitler was a vegetarian, but what has all this got to do with the Führer?’ I hear you cry. Well, read on …

All these trendy girls are topped by Fully Raw – http://www.fullyraw.com – the creation of Kristina Carrillo-Bucanam, who rid herself of Hyperglycemia at the age of 18 eating nothing but a low fat raw vegan diet consisting solely of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the pinnacle of raw food cool. Of course, Kristina’s recipe ideas are confined to the realm of gazpachos, smoothies and salads. Cooking, she claims, destroys nutrients, “denatures the proteins, carcinogizes the fats, and caramelizes the carbohydrates”.

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You could counter that cooking releases certain nutrients as well as killing bacteria and, well, simply makes many foods taste better. Not to mention the climactic differences between Kristina’s Texas and Northern Europe; salads are simply less appetising without the sunshine. But to do so would spoil the fun and destroy the admittedly tenuous premise of this blog post.

So, where’s the link with Nazi cool? Well, Hitler was advocating all this stuff decades ago, darling.

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HJ auf Fahrt

He wasn’t a mere veggie, our Adolf, oh no! His dietary opinions went far beyond the volkish eintopfsuppe, the Germanic disdain for the western dietary impurity, and the longing to return to rye bread and autarchy. No, I tell you Hitler was the unacknowledged father of the hip diet of today.

Take this excerpt from Hitler’s Table Talk (5 November 1941):

“It’s not impossible that one of the causes of cancer lies in the harmfulness of cooked foods.”

 Or this, from 29 December 1941:

“the doctors used to say that a meat diet was indispensable for the formation of bones. This was not true … we have bad teeth … this has something to do with a diet that’s rich in yeast. Nine tenths of our diet are made up of foods deprived of their biological qualities … mortality is enormous among [people] who eat only cooked foods.”

Or this from 22 January 1942:

“When you offer a child the choice of an apple, a cake or a piece of meat it’s the apple he chooses … ancestral instinct”

So there you have it! Move aside, skeletal cool dietary gurus, Adolf beat you to it. And like the return of fascism in the fashion stakes, the extreme national socialist diet is quite obviously creeping in to trendy eating habits.

The Hitler diet: the next big foodie trend? Remember, you heard it here first.

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French reforms welcome; let’s not privatise waste food

Last week came the brilliant news that the French have made it illegal to throw away any food considered edible. Supermarkets and other food businesses will now have to give this food to charities combating food poverty: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/25/french-supermarkets-donate-food-waste-global-law-campaign

Viva la revolution! Good on you, France! Good on you, Arash Derambarsh (the man who pushed for this, pictured below).  

 Let’s hope the scheme is a full success and doesn’t get watered down or, even worse, tourner au vinaigre.
So any chance of this catching on here? Any similar legislation in Britain would be most welcome. Underlining the meanness of some approaches to food waste in this country, supermarkets here lock their bins away so that people can’t even scavenge from them. Tight fisted. Greedy. Selfish.

In much of continental Europe, by contrast, even large corporations leave their bins accessible, signalling an openness to the idea of their food waste being taken by those who might need it; now France has led the way in ensuring corporate giants are forced to take food waste seriously.
If we were to adopt similar laws here, the greatest beneficiaries would presumably be the Trussell Trust. In Britain, media commentary on the food poverty issue is monopolised by the Trussell Trust, which runs around half of the food banks operational here. There’s a conspicuous lack of alternative voices on the food poverty issue in this country. Hence, food banks are seen as the solution.  

 But in previous posts, I’ve written about how food banks are simply not a sustainable solution to food poverty. Food isn’t fresh a lot of the time. Cookery skills aren’t addressed. Despite the admirable spirit of voluntarism, Hand outs, not community, is the ethic. They take risk and responsibility away from supermarkets and politicians. Sure, supermarkets already donate waste food by running food bank collections here. But this does not include FRESH fruit and veg. That would be a lot more difficult to manage, you see. Far easier to chuck away the fresh stuff and give non-perishables to food banks.

So if similar laws were adopted here, they should have to ensure that a greater cross section of community food projects receive waste food – projects which go beyond emergency food provision and look to longer term solutions to poverty, sustainability in food and community cohesion.

Food waste shouldn’t be privatised

Which brings me to current food waste service providers FareShare.

They, like the Trussell, enjoy something of a monopoly on food waste. The model involves community organisations, food banks etc signing up. Then FareShare collects waste food from supermarkets and drops it to you. 

So far, fair enough. But there’s a catch: the charge. FareShare make their money by charging a monthly fee. And you don’t know what you’re going to get week by week. Recently, FareShare’s CEO Lindsay Boswell stuck up for the poor old supermarkets who were being wrongly demonised by some beastly MPs for contributing to food poverty. Of course he did. The status quo suits him and his company.

Compare this to the approach of Adam Smith. No, not the Scottish economist. The founder of The Real Junk Food Project. 

 Smith Has told me that he wants to see FareShare “on its knees”. Why? Because he believes it’s wrong to profit from food waste. Instead, under his scheme, you sign up for free and he gives you a load of mobile numbers. You set a date on which you’ll hold a community dinner or ‘Binner Party’. Then you go through your list, calling the manager of Nandos or wherever, and getting his/her pledge to give you its still-good but technically ‘waste’ food on that date. No middleman. No fee.

The status quo, which people like Adam Smith are challenging, means boom time for those looking to make a quick buck off food waste.

Let’s follow the French model instead and let’s ensure, in doing so, that it contributes to the death of not only the food bank but also the food waste redistribution system as we know it.

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