By: Kerry Bazany
Food waste is a travesty in the industrialized world. Approximately a third of the food produced for human consumption in the world each and every year gets wasted. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food. This translates into 30% for cereals, 40 to 50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds and meat and dairy, and 35% for fish. The food lost or wasted each year equals to more than half of the world’s annual cereal crop (2.3 billion tons).
Having raised three daughters to adulthood as a single mom, I am regretfully guilty of wasting food. It was easier to just buy in bulk without realizing the consequences of my behavior. It was almost a flippant attitude: after all, I was a busy working mom and therein lay all the convenient excuses. Purchasing items in bulk was convenient, and I thought that what I purchased would eventually be used. Then all those huge containers of fruit, yogurt, cereals, and snacks would find their way into the trash. And that’s not all: packages of meat that I thought I would use for meals eventually expired, and into the garbage they went. Even small jaunts to the local grocery store sometimes resulted in the same way.
I clearly remember my both my mother and grandmother chastising me for not finishing the food on my plate, stating that there were “starving people in China.” Turns out, they weren’t wrong, at least in the overall scheme of things.
The French Food Waste Law
Each morning at a grocery market in Paris, Magdalena Dos Santos has a meeting with a driver from the French food bank: a gentleman by the name of Ahmed Djerbrani. Magdalena is busy setting aside prepared dishes that are close to their expiration date: yogurt, pizza, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cheese. Yet this is not just a philanthropic gesture. It is now a requirement under a 2016 law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food. If grocery stores do not comply, they can be fined up to $4,500 for each infraction.
The food is then loaded into Djerbrani’s van and to a church that will distribute the food to poor families.
Throughout France, about 5,000 charitable organizations rely upon the food bank network that now receives nearly 50% of its donations from grocery stores under this new law. Gillaine Demeules, a volunteer with the St. Vincent De Paul Society, states that the law helps cut back on food waste “by getting rid of certain constraining contracts between supermarkets and food manufacturers.” For example, the charity now receives 30,000 sandwiches a month from a manufacturer that previously was unauthorized to donate their sandwiches that it made for a particular grocery brand and those sandwiches had to be thrown away.
American Food Waste Is Stunning
Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, states that Americans waste approximately 200 billion pounds of food per year. Two hundred billion! That’s enough to fill the 90,000 Rose Bowl stadium each day. In industrialized countries such as the United States and Europe, most of this waste occurs at the end of the food chain, meaning that food that is ready for consumption is thrown away. In underdeveloped nations, the culprit for food waste exists at the beginning of the food chain: at the harvesting stage due to inadequate storage facilities. In the United States, where does all that thrown-away food go? To the landfills, of course, and that adds up to almost $165 billion in losses, not to mention the environmental resources such as land and water that are utilized to grow the food products. Let’s also not forget the billions of tons of greenhouse gases that are flooded into the atmosphere by decaying food.
Meanwhile, In Italy
Mossimo Bottura, a renowned chef, opened a five star restaurant called Refettorio Ambrosianaoin Milan, Italy in 2015. It accepts donations of unsold food from grocery stores and supermarkets and uses volunteers from professional chefs who want to donate their time to feed the hungry. What these disenfranchised individuals receive is far from the ordinary soup kitchen fare. The chefs collectively prepare food that would otherwise be discarded, and these remnants turn into gourmet meals. The “guests” are served rather than waiting in line, and incorporates dignity rather than mere feeding. These patrons feel, if just for a moment, like royalty and indulge in gourmet meals.
We Need to Do so Much More
In the United States, one of the largest offenders of food waste, much more needs to be done, and perhaps modeled on what individuals in France and Italy have already accomplished. Political discussions need to be pushed aside and partisan conversations abolished in favor of serving the needs of individuals who are truly in need and suffering from various degrees of food insecurity. Allowing millions of our fellow citizens to go hungry should never be allowed.
As a person concerned with food waste and the problem of hunger, there are things that you can do:
- Shop smart: Plan your meals and use grocery lists. Avoid impulse buys. This will help you use what you have before it expires.
- Be realistic:If you rarely cook, don’t stock up on goods that have to be cooked
- Buy produce that is “funny looking”: This is one of the biggest culprits to the enormous amounts of food that is wasted based upon American consumers desire to buy produce that is uniform in shape and color. So much produce is thrown away just because it does not meet standards of so-called “perfection”. Less than perfect-appearing produce tastes exactly the same. In fact, less than perfect-looking produce can (at times) have less additives – like wax – to give fruit a desirable look for customers.
- Practice “FIFO”: This refers to “First In, First Out”. Move older products to the front of the pantry and fridge.
- Designate one day a week to “use up”: Look in your pantry or fridge for things you haven’t used, and look up a recipe that would utilize those products.
- Eat your leftovers!! This one goes without saying. One of the best ways you can now throw good food away, is to eat it!