Sometimes numbers help put things into perspective. While perhaps it might cause you a bit of anxiety to leave this thing running for a while, it is definitely sobering. The World Food Clock counts the amount of food produced, consumed and wasted while you watch. It also breaks down the energy and water used in that food, and reveals other food facts that might make you rethink how you value your food.
Food & Wine magazine editor gave a Ted talk this year encouraging the use of ugly veggies and creatures, to find the ‘inner beauty’ in the name of both taste and reducing food waste. Dana Cowin claims this is the new food trend, and she hopes (as do I) that everyone gets on board. But let’s hope this sticks around as more than just a trend.
Interested in what Food and Wine magazine has to say about waste? Check out some of their online articles:
Food waste may not sound like the most beautiful thing, and it’s not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not turning heads in the art world.
Dimitri Tsykalov’s macabre fruit and vegetable skull carvings show a gruesome picture of unwanted food.
Another art piece inspired by the excessive food waste in society is these baguette tables created by Studio Rygalik for the event the “Bread Experience”. The aim of this project was to create discussion around food waste.
Another group of artists, the New Glue Society, created perhaps an even more politically minded piece. Their installation, ” More Than Ten Items Or Less” at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, consisted of a produce shop displaying the average food waste of an Australian household. the fruit was displayed as a normal shop, but was left untouched and rotting over the course of a week. The piece caused some controversy, which was the point, confronting and disturbing viewers with the reality of their own waste.
For more Dimitri Tsykalov’s art: dimitritsykalov.com
For more on Baguette tables from Studio Rygalik: http://www.studiorygalik.com/baguette-tables–vienna-design-week/
See more on “More Than Ten Items Or Less” at http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2013/october/more-than-ten-items-or-less
The biggest players in the world’s food and drink industry have made a promise to halve the food they waste by 2025. This pledge was made at a meeting in New York of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a network of around 400 retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, with combined sales of $2.8 trillion. In order to meet this promise, the CGF will measure a baseline for 2016 and then establish monitoring and reporting systems for its members to quantify and reduce waste.
While it’s great that food waste is on the radar of such large companies, I can’t help but be a bit skeptical, especially when the CEO of Nestle says the move is particularly aimed to preserve natural resources like water. Nestle Waters is the world’s leading bottled water company worldwide, and has on multiple occasions come under fire for misuse of water (for instance, it’s currently continuing to use California groundwater, even in the midst of drought). These actions don’t exactly show a company commitment to the vision of protecting the earth’s water supply (not to mention reducing packaging waste). So while it may be a positive development to see food waste on the agenda, it could also be a way for companies to alleviate some of the public pressure and potential future regulation by looking like they’re already doing something about the problem. Time will tell, and hopefully this move is genuine, but in any event it might not hurt to turn up the pressure on private companies to cut back on food waste.
Even the pope is calling out food waste. On June 11, in an address to delegates of the FAO, Pope Francis encouraged Member States to work toward combating food waste, particularly in light of food insecurity in the world. He expressed concern over the current state of global food waste stating, “It is unsettling to know that a good portion of agricultural products end up used for other purposes, maybe good, but that are not immediate needs of the hungry.” Significantly, he also acknowledged the system of consumerism that promotes over-consumption and perpetrates waste. He urged consumers to make changes to their lifestyles in order to reduce waste and live more sustainably. “Sobriety is not in opposition to development, indeed it is now clear that the one is a necessary condition for the other.”
While I may not be on the same page as the Pope on every issue, I can stand by him on this one. Hopefully his comments will influence his audience of delegates, but also the many followers who value his teachings.
The French councillor, Arash Derambarsh, the man behind the legislative change in France which requires supermarkets to donate excess food, has continued to ride the momentum of success and media to try to bring the initiative to the EU. The proposed amendment calls on the European commission to “promote in member states the creation of conventions proposing that retail food sector distribute their unsold products to charity associations” On July 9, MEPs included the food waste amendement last minute as a part of an adopted resolution on the “circular economy”. Derambarsh hopes to have the issue of food waste tabled at the United Nations later this year. The new legislation in France sparked some debate as to if this is really the best way to combat waste, or if it is a well meaning, but misguided move. So while food waste should be on the EU agenda, should it be so quick to support this particular tactic, before the consequences in France have even been seen?
At a recent food-waste event, the manager of a leading food-recovery charity joked to the audience, “We want to reduce food waste, but at the same time, we want it because we use it to feed hungry people”.
This comment suggests that food waste is the solution for food insecurity in the city.
This rhetoric is enormously problematic
Upon questioning, the speaker admitted her comment was made lightly. Knowing and respecting her, I can verify that it is uncharacteristic of her actual morals and work. Nevertheless, I employ her comment because it represents an entire discourse in the food waste and food security worlds. Consider, for a moment, these screen-clips from websites of leading North American food-recovery charities:
Each draws a connection between hungry mouths and excess/surplus food. At first glance, you can’t be blamed for thinking that food-insecurity and food waste are two problems that together, solve each other.
-What to do with all these hungry people? Give them surplus food!
-What to do with all this surplus food? Give it to hungry people! Win, win, win. Problems solved!
But in reality, each is a discrete and gargantuan problem. We cannot be complacent believing that the current food recovery and donation model can solve both. Allow me to illustrate:
Misunderstanding #1: Aren’t food recovery groups doing a terrific job diverting food from landfills?
Sure! Food recovery groups play a critical role in saving food before it becomes “waste.” I strongly believe in them, and volunteer myself. But we cannot forget that they represent David against the Goliath that is food waste globally.
Any conversation that portrays food recovery as the solution for food waste is misleading. In reality, the scale of food waste is gargantuan. For instance, refer to City Harvest’s outstanding accomplishment above: they rescue 136,000 lbs of edible food EVERY DAY in New York City. However, consider that against the ~11,532,000 lbs of food waste the city generates daily…and it quickly becomes apparent that food recovery is not a meaningful solution for an overwhelming food waste crisis.
Overall, less than 5% of food waste in America is diverted from landfills, and this encompasses all forms of diversion (biogas, composting, animal fodder, not just food charities).
Well, great! That must mean that everyone’s got more than enough to eat! Actually, no. Now let’s consider the other problem in this situation:
Misunderstanding #2: Isn’t the vast quantity of food waste a terrific way to solve hunger?
Unfortunately, even with unimaginable levels of food being thrown out, food banks and charities are unable to eliminate hunger. They are far from reaching all food-insecure individuals. Food Banks Canada, for instance, reported serving 374,698 Canadians in 2014…only a sliver of the 1.2 million Canadians who experience food insecurity.
Many reasons account for this, including access or informational barriers, unsuitable food offerings, and the sense of shame associated with charity food procurement. In short, the charity food recovery model does not have the capacity to end hunger. So when considering Feeding America’s mission of “solving hunger” and “feeding America’s hungry” (see above), we must question if this current charity-based strategy will ever bring this goal to fruition.
Food Recovery is not SOLVING food waste or hunger. So what could work?
Let’s be clear: food banks and soup kitchens were designed to fill a short-term need. However, every year more people come to depend on them, thanks to the retreat of government from social service provision and escalating levels of poverty.
Charity cannot end hunger. Hunger is an issue of poverty; and poverty is a problem for policy.
Luckily, some organizations are recognizing the limitations of the charitable food-recovery model and turning toward the core issues.
On the hunger front, some groups are starting to work beyond food handouts. They are looking “upstream” to address issues such as housing, inadequate wages, and the lack of social services for the most vulnerable.
Addressing these deeper issues will help lift people out of poverty, making them less dependent on food charity. FoodShare, for example, engages in advocacy in tandem with its food-hamper handouts. Community Food Centres Canada runs food-skills education and advocacy groups alongside its food access programs. Their efforts focus attention squarely on government, highlighting that the voluntary sector ought not, and cannot be responsible for the problems of hunger and poverty.
Meanwhile, on the food waste front, groups such as Feeding5K, the Pig Idea, and LoveFoodHateWaste are working to identify the policy levers and affect change that will meaningfully reduce the amount of food waste being created.
Over to You!
As individuals, we can help immensely by volunteering with food recovery organizations. But it is incumbent upon us to work for deeper change. This front-line work should only be part of our efforts, because the core problems of food waste and food insecurity need deeper policy change. I invite you to explore the organizations in your hometown that are working for long-term change, and contribute half of your energies into immediate short-term relief, but another half into advocacy for long-term structural change. Let’s work together, on various fronts, to eliminate these problems.
 Loopstra, Rachel, and Valerie Tarasuk. 2012. “The Relationship between Food Banks and Household Food Insecurity among Low-Income Toronto Families.” Canadian Public Policy 38 (4): 497–514.