Hope for the end of food waste

Sometimes it’s all too easy to feel like an issue is too big or beyond ourselves. Environmental issues often fall into this as they can feel disconnected or beyond the scope of the individual consumer.

I’m not trying to get people down, but rather to take heart in something I like about studying food waste. In this case, the huge environmental (and social, and economic) problem is very much one of which the average consumer is a part: that is the beauty of the issue. According to a report from last year, 47% of food waste in Canada is created at the household level, making it the largest sector, as can be seen in the chart.

VCMC - Fig. 4.1

From the Value Chain Management Centre report:  “$27 Billion” Revisited

While I don’t mean to oversimplify (there are certainly structural changes which also need to occur), consumers do play a major role, as we can see from the fact that the majority of food waste occurs at the household level. The beauty of this is that we do have a great deal of power to change by altering our waste creation and disposal practices.

Perhaps I’m more talking to myself, but I think sometimes we need the sense that a difference can be made. Because so much of the waste occurs in the home, changing household behaviour can have an enormous impact. Consumers can reduce the amount of waste they create by adopting proper food storage or careful meal planning, but consumers can also create demand for less wasteful products, or buy products close to their best before date in order to cut down on retail waste. Even just being aware of food waste has shown to cut down on it.

I like to take heart in this,  that individuals have so much power in this area.  While consumers may feel overwhelmed by the need for systemic change, and it is important, I think it’s equally important to remember to start with the easy changes, including steps that de-normalize food waste. Food waste is complicated, but there are some areas of low hanging fruit, like starting with eating your leftovers and composting inevitable food scraps. The reality is that changing policy can make the food system more efficient, but that still won’t cut out food waste in homes, where so much of it occurs – that requires changes in consumer behaviour. And here’s where I think there’s so much potential: consumers have already been seen to produce less waste once they are conscious of it, and with the growing attention to our food and now the waste associated with it, I feel more confident that food waste is manageable and that we will start to see changes.

 

What kind of food you waste matters

Food waste is a problem, but among foods that are wasted, the environmental impacts of some are worse than others. One of the major problems with food waste is that all the resources and energy that go into creating food also are wasted if that food goes uneaten. So if you want to trim your food print, there are areas where your energies will have a bigger impact. The most significant is in the area of meat: while I won’t tell you to become vegetarian (though that could dramatically reduce your ecological  footprint), changing your food and waste habits with regard to meat is an area of great potential. While animal products make up a smaller portion of household food waste, the environmental impact of those products are significantly higher. In many ways reducing food waste fits in with many other aspects of ethical eating (for instance local or organic foods may have lower footprints as they travel shorter distances and may use fewer inputs).

For more info on your food’s ecological footprint:

http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/food-carbon-footprint-diet 

Food foodprint

Cooking to reduce waste

"The Waste Not Want Not Cook Book: Save Food, Save Money and Save the Planet" offers advice on how to store and serve different fruits and vegetables to prevent food from being wasted.

One of the primary issues with household food waste is that many home cooks have the best of intentions but lack the know-how to reduce waste in the kitchen. When performing surveys last summer, I often found that when I asked people how easy it would be for them to reduce their food waste, they often struggled to think of ways that this could be done. Improving kitchen skills in order to make less waste the norm can be helpful. The food waste that comes out of the kitchen is mostly avoidable, but avoiding waste requires some commitment and effort, at least until it becomes habit. To help with the practical and delicious side of cooking without waste, Cinda Chavich has created a new cookbook, Waste Not, Want Not Cook Book: Save Food, Save Money, Save the Planet.  Another new book is the Waste-free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders of the National Resource Defense Council. So if you’re keen to join the new green food trend of waste free cooking, you may want to check them out. My favourite way to save my groceries from rotting in the fridge is to use the  search tools on Food Gawker for recipes using those particular ingredients. Happy cooking!

Hear Chavich talk about food waste and her book here.