Most of us in the Going Global community are blessed to be world travelers. We are lucky enough to visit many different countries and to see first-hand the good, the bad and the ugly around the world. For those who travel to Africa, parts of Asia and even through our own countries, we can first hand the problems with hunger and food insecurity. Well the good news is, you can help to do something about it.
Don’t waste food.
I grew up in a third world country in Asia and so I know what it’s like not to have food on the table. Food waste is a global issue that some countries really take seriously but unfortunately some don’t.
What constitutes food waste? It is when food is thrown out while it is still suitable for human consumption. And that happens a lot. When I walk into a high-end grocery store with freshly prepared foods, bakery items and other delicious treats, I often wonder what happens to them at the end of the day. So I went to one popular grocery store and asked the staff what they do with all the unsold prepared foods and I was told that everything is thrown away and not even sent home to employees. I was in complete shock and thought of the millions of households struggling to find food to eat and organizations who can really use food donations like food banks or homeless shelters. France has taken this issue seriously and became the first country to ban grocery stores from destroying and throwing away unsold food and instead mandating that they donate the food to charities and food banks. The UK also has a similar food waste bill with comparable provisions.
Research by Value Chain Management in 2014 shows that 10% of food waste occurs at the retail level. This is a higher proportion than transportation and distribution (4%), equivalent to farms and restaurants (10% respectively), half that of processing (20%) and significantly lower than consumers who actually account for nearly half of all food waste (47%).
The Value Chain research report also showed that $31 billion worth of food end up in landfills or composters each year. According to the organization, the food system is “under stress” and avoidable food waste can increase costs of up to 10% for consumers.
Food waste is a logical focal point for many Canadian businesses like Loblaws, Canada’s largest grocery store chain. A spokesperson says that they understand the disconnect between the levels of food insecurity and the levels of food waste in Canada.
While retail is a relatively small contributor to food waste volumes, Loblaws understands the impact they can play throughout the value chain and with consumers. For example they recently launched a very popular brand of small or misshapen fruits and vegetables which captures food that wouldn’t have otherwise been sold and offers it at a 30% discount.
When they asked their customers which subjects they think should be a priority for any large grocery retailer, food waste was named by 27%. As an issue it ranked fourth behind fair wages and working conditions, local sourcing and healthier choices. Food waste is an important issue for their customers as over the last three years it has been a top ten issue named by 20-30% of customers.
When it comes to donating and diverting food they follow the usual hierarchy, first trying to feed people, then turning to animal feed, composting, industrial uses, energy production and so on. The company’s choices rely heavily on available infrastructure and they are extremely proud of their food donation programs where stores are paired with local agencies supporting hunger-relief programs in partnership with food recovery organizations. They believe reducing food waste can not only help others but it can also help the company’s bottom line.
Miranda Malisani is a food waste activist and a health food shop owner who grew up experiencing the harsh reality of food insecurity having used food assistance during her childhood and adolescent years. Miranda knows first-hand the challenging emotional and physical effects of not having the right nourishment. “When we think as a community, we can channel this understanding into action and elevate the connection, the care and support we feel from each other”. Miranda says healthy food is an essential part of living well and when we waste food that could have nourished someone going through one of life’s struggles, she says this isn’t thinking as a community. Through her Eat It Forward Health Food Shop, Miranda is determined to give back by donating part of the sales in the form of healthy non-perishables to food banks in need.
About 1.3 billion tons of food get thrown each year and the food discarded by retailers and consumers in the most developed countries would be more than enough to feed all of the world’s 870 million hungry people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
So how can we address this pressing issue?
Debra Lawson, Executive Director of Second Harvest suggests to “shop your own fridge; It’s the number one tip in reducing food waste at home. “We often decide what we want to eat and then see if we have the ingredients in the fridge and buy what we’re missing. If we reverse that and decide on our meal based on what’s already in the fridge, a lot less of those fruits and vegetables will go to waste.”
Second Harvest is an organization started out by two Torontonians who drove around the city asking restaurants and grocery stores to donate excess fresh food to those who are hungry. Their goal is to rescue and deliver fresh surplus food to feed people experiencing hunger. Today, Second Harvest provides a critical service to thousands of locals and prevents 100 million pounds of food from going to waste.
Donations to food banks and other organizations who can re-use edible fresh food can also help re-direct waste away from our landfill contributing to a healthier environment. Here’s the real bottom line, food is created to be consumed, not wasted. With the help of the government and support of local politicians to help ensure all collective methods are effective, we can all take part in contributing to a hunger-free world,
Cristina Carpio is a television personality, brand and restaurant strategist as well as a passionate food and beverage expert. Travel and living life to the fullest is in her DNA. In addition to hosting Going Global, Cristina is a country ambassador for a global immersive dining platform and has a column for a noted North American food and beverage industry magazine. She has also been recognized for her work and involvement in charitable and community projects and has hosted several prestigious festivals, fashion and cultural events.