Do you remember hearing your parents say that when you were young? The rest of the comment was usually reinforced with the fact that there were children starving in Africa. Guess what? There are still children starving in Africa (as well as many other places) and there is a report just released that does say the amount of food we waste here does have an impact on poverty and hunger in the world. Our parents had it right all along!
The report I speak of is one commissioned by the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. They discovered that the amount of food wasted by consumers in North America and Europe is equal to the amount produced in sub-Saharan Africa – 222 million tons. Per capita, we waste between 95 and 115 kilograms of food per year, while people living in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia waste only 6-11 kilograms per year. In addition, the reasons food get wasted are different. For us, it is more often a case of throwing food in the garbage, whereas in developing countries it is often due to poor conditions in getting the food to the consumer (this is called “food loss” instead of “food wastage”). Those are sobering figures, aren’t they?
It’s gets even more interesting… did you know that some food gets wasted because it’s not pretty enough? Suppliers won’t take items like crooked carrots from farmers as they cannot be peeled in one easy stroke, and even unpeeled, apparently, we (consumers) don’t buy carrots that aren’t straight.
There is more – the resources used to produce the food that is wasted are also wasted. That means the greenhouse gas emissions that add to the global warming we talk about are in vain. It’s rather a vicious circle, isn’t it? Hopefully, you are now asking the question, “How to we make it better?”
One important thing to remember is that we have a voice (I know, I sound like Oprah; well, on this point she was right!) Consumers can make a difference by letting suppliers know their preferences and their desires. I know the Save-On Foods in Westbank was making efforts to find more local produce this season in response to comments from their customers. If you don’t mind buying crooked carrots, let your grocer know. Someone from a country full of hungry people once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I believe Mr. Gandhi had a good point.
Another point worth considering is that processed food accounts for a larger proportion of food waste than raw food (items you prepare yourself). The package of frozen French fries you bought is made from potatoes that were sorted and then also re-sorted as fries, with all the bits not included in your package usually being wasted. Your homemade fries are more likely to include end pieces of potato and fries of different sizes.
The comment that struck me the most in the report was this simple statement:
Abundance and consumer attitudes lead to high food waste in industrialized countries.
We can afford to waste food. It can be cheaper to buy a large package of broccoli at Costco than it is to buy the one head you need; even if you throw some out you saved money, right? This seems to go back to that old comment… just because you don’t feel like eating those crusts doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the impact that waste has on a larger scale. We could say we have worked hard to afford such luxury, and everyone is doing it. But that just makes me think of another old parental comment: “If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you do that, too?”
I for one, am making a concerted effort to cut back on abundance. I only planted one zucchini plant in the garden this year. I am sowing smaller rows of radishes and lettuce alternately so it doesn’t all come up at once. These small measures will help me remember the importance of respecting my food. It would be rude of me to waste things when there are children starving in the world.
Thanks for listening.
Wasting food while knowing that in our beautiful country some people can’t find enough food is crazy. Yes, some wastage in food is necessary, like when you buy an egg you don’t eat the shell or you eat meat but not the bones. Even if you can make soup out of bones, you still won’t eat them.
What really blows my mind is when you hear stories of farmers in the Okanagan choosing not to pick the fruit off the trees because it’s not worth it financially to actually pay staff to pick the fruits because the price on the market is so low no profit can be made. How sad is that! There has to be a way to avoid things like this and I don’t believe subsidizing farmers is the solution. I would much prefer our government create rules that prevent certain countries to come in Canada with extra cheap food and dump it on our market at such a low price that no local farmers can compete with that… Let’s create a solution where our farmers can sell their crops locally first; it’s better for the environment, and would help reduce the wastage of food. The good old adage throwing money at a problem is not a good answer. If a restaurant cannot make money the government does not come in with a grant and pay the difference so that the restaurant can stay open forever. I have huge respect for farmers as it is an extremely hard business to be in and they choose to stick with it, but our government needs to create a system other than subsidies that make sense. Then maybe we can avoid some huge wastage of food.
Supporting our local food bank or shelters is also a great way to get rid of extra food you don’t need. Most shelters in town will take fresh food just about any time of the day.
There’s my two cents…
This is the FAO link: http://www.fao.org/
This is the FAO link: http://www.fao.org/