National Geographic : 2016 Mar
44 national geographic • march 2016 be able to ... It’s outrageous of me to ask but ...” What’s the goal of the disco soup, besides res- cuing food? Raising awareness and building community. This squishy stuff works. While gleaning, dicing, and dining, chefs from Lima to London have connect- ed with charities hungry for their excess; California entrepreneurs have hatched schemes to rescue wonky-looking fruit from burial; civil society groups have foment- ed plans for a Kenyan food-rescue network; a Belgian brewer has been emboldened to convert stale bread into salable beer. A disco soup in Lima seems harebrained, given that Stuart is five hours from the city, has a looming appointment at a Colom- bian banana plantation, controls neither a dining room nor a kitchen, and has no budget and no food. But history suggests he will probably succeed. Stuart, now 38, was born in London, the last of three boys. He lived in the city part-time but at 14 took up full-time residence with his father in rural East Sussex, where the family kept a large house in Ashdown Forest, the model for Winnie- the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. Just across the valley lay what had been his grandparents’ estate, a sprawling property with enough farm staff during World War II to field a cricket team against the local village. Stuart’s father, Simon, had grown up there, and his stories about the farm’s bounty bewitched his youngest son. Simon Stuart was a talented teacher of English and an outstanding naturalist. “ We could never learn everything he knew,” Tris- tram recalls. “So my brothers and I split it up. One did birds, another did dragonflies, and I did mushrooms.” (Dining on a $22 pizza topped with “wild” mushrooms the night before his New York City feast, Stuart lights into the wait- er. “ Your menu is s---. I’m a forager. I know what wild mushrooms look like, and these are from a shop.”) Living miles from the nearest town but psychologically close to his grandparents’ self-sufficient farm defined Stuart. His father tended a large vegetable garden, and Stuart added pigs and chickens to the mix. In exchange for manure, Simon gave Tristram his vege- table trimmings. “So I had eggs and meat, and I’d go out with my ferrets to catch rabbits and shoot deer,” Stuart says. The larder was almost complete. Stuart had be- gun selling pork and eggs to the parents of his schoolmates, but he quickly realized that buying animal feed would bankrupt him. He started a swill route: collect- ing misfit potatoes and stale cakes from local shops and his school kitchen. He bred his sow, Gudrun, and he learned how much edible food the community daily discarded. Stuart’s environmental consciousness was expanding. At 12, he’d written a paper likening the burning of fossil fuels to smoking cigarettes— both were self-destructive and addictive. After spending part of a year on a French cattle farm, he entered the University of Cambridge, where he studied English literature and experienced a cruel uprooting from his agro-ecological heaven. The school food was produced “with no attention to sustainable criteria,” he says. In response he joined other campus activists who were dining on food they’d liberated from supermarket Dump- sters. He also drank cider pressed from strangers’ apples, shared the roasted brains, rolled spleens, and crisped ears of Gudrun’s many offspring, and—after learning they were tasty—slurped snails from friends’ gardens. It’s not surprising to learn that Stuart once dabbled in theater. “I quite liked it,” he says, though it eventually threatened to “get in the way of the really important work of saving the planet.” He was sufficiently self-aware to realize that priv- ileged students plucking unopened tubs of ricotta from rubbish bins had great rhetorical potential. At that time, he says, neither supermarkets nor Stuart takes every opportunity to eat low on the hog— congealed chicken blood, guinea pig, tripe.