The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has released
some shocking facts and figures: one-third of food produced across the world for human consumption annually is discarded along the chain that stretches from farms to processing plants, marketplaces, retailers, food- service operations and home kitchens.
The wastage amounts to about 2.8 trillion pounds, enough to feed the planet’s famine-beset societies. Says the FAO, the richer the nation, the more waste it produces. In poorer nations, which lack adequate storage facilities and transportation, vast quantities of foodstuffs are lost to rot, mould, insects and rodents.
Developed nations such as the US are the worst culprits when it comes to a cavalier attitude to food. Restaurants and event companies routinely dump buffet leftovers, and food retailers over- order and then discard food that does not meet aesthetic standards or has passed an artificial ‘sell-by’ date (designed to communicate peak freshness only).
Consumers in wealthy countries are also complicit, says the FAO. Shoppers overbuy beautifully packaged food, store it improperly, neglect leftovers and tip mountains of food into the bin. The organisation has plenty of other disturbing facts to share: squandering food also wastes the vast quantities of fuel, agricultural chemicals, water, land and labour needed to produce it. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest generator of greenhouse gases in the world, behind China and the US.
Economics prevents the situation from changing, as stores fix prices to make profits and convince families that it’s better to buy fresh yoghurt than eat the one past its sell-by date in the fridge. Farmers will also leave entire blocks of fruit or vegetables in orchards and fields, for fear of flooding the market and depressing prices.
There are organisations at work to change the way our food is treated. Africa-based One-Acre Fund, for example, teaches farmers how to cure and store harvests. In Afghanistan, the FAO supplied farmers with storage, cooling and preserving equipment, enabling farmers to get a realistic price at market.
In France, new legislation bans food markets from dumping food that may have ‘expired’. And around Europe, a new consciousness is developing across all levels of society: 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.
Category: Summer 2015