Fighting Food Waste: How to Really Inspire Individuals to Reduce

Recently, our team member, Kelly Hodgins, contributed a guest blog post to Humanitas Global “Hunger and Undernutrition” Blog.

She spoke about the ways we can empower more of the public to reduce food waste at home. If you are interested in how to make food-waste reduction campaigns, efforts and advocacy more effective, check out the blog!



“Bon Appétit!” – Paris implements Climate & Energy Action Plan that rethinks waste and its food system

By Samantha Pascoal, Applied Human Nutrition Student & Research Assistant

Paris food waste

Paris, a romantic metropolis known for its croissants, La Seine and the Eiffel tower will hopefully soon be known for its forward-thinking Climate and Energy Action Plan implemented in 2007.   The plan has ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, and also calls for increased use of renewable energy.  Parisian residents, restaurants, and industries have adopted sustainable consumption strategies that generate less waste in order to achieve these goals.

Creating a more sustainable food system, and thus a more circular economy, has been an instrumental strategy.  This has involved…

  • A Sustainable Food Plan, which promotes sustainable food products (organic, in-season and local) agriculture in municipal and departmental restaurants;
  • Consideration of the creation of a central purchasing office for large industries, to help them find reliable sources of innovative products that have sustainable life cycles;
  • The shortening of supply chains, making local food a reality in Paris; and
  • A Local Waste Prevention Programme (PLPD) that reduces household waste: working toward a 15% reduction from 2007 levels by 2020.

What are Parisian residents and stakeholders encouraged to do to ensure future progress?
To tackle the high levels of preventable wastes such as food and packaging, the Paris PLPB proposes a suite of strategies:

  • Educating citizens about their waste production;
  • Promoting the purchase of minimally-packaged products (tap water, bulk food);
  • Encouraging citizens to deal with toxic, electronic, and medical wastes responsibly through the comprehensive hazardous wastes management stream; and
  • Demonstrating good practices by improving practices by Paris administration.

Other metropolises around the world could learn and benefit from similar procedures.

Positive and dramatic change has already been observed as a result of the implementation of these strategies.  For example, atmospheric pollution from food waste decreased from 521,000 to 484,000 (Tonnes C02 equivalent) between 2004 and 2009.  A total reduction of 35 kg of household and similar waste per resident was seen between 2006-2010, compared with the 23 kg per resident reduction expected within that time.  Overall, the Climate and Energy Action Plan has overseen the reduction in general greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption in Paris, and an increase in used renewable energy sources.  The case in Paris shows that by focusing on decreasing waste and re-formatting food systems, the human impact on the environment can be considerably reduced.

Probing the “Rescue Food: End Hunger” Parable

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”.

Hold on!

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:

Food Recovery Screen Clips

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.

WastED_2 Waste vs Recovery NYC

Overall, less than 5% of food waste in America is diverted from landfills[1], 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.

WasteED_3 Food Bank Usage

Many reasons account for this, including access or informational barriers, unsuitable food offerings, and the sense of shame associated with charity food procurement[2]. 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.[3]

WastED_4 FoodShare

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.


[2] 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.


64% of food waste is preventable: Learn how you can prolong your food’s life!

This weekend, we shared food waste tips / tricks with visitors to Toronto’s Green Living Show. The number of stimulating conversations we had with folks floored us! We received countless requests to share the information more widely and accessibly by posting it online. So, in our devotion to you and in our mission to help you prevent food waste in your own kitchen, here are some tips our visitors found particularly useful!

We don’t know it all, so let’s continue this conversation: use the comments box for questions or to share your own tips. Tweet us ideas, and check out the links we include to other great resources.

@guelphfoodwaste @kjhodgins @KateParizeau @Mikevonmassow @RalphmartinOAC


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  • Pop in the freezer in bunches. They will last for months, and it’s just as easy to chop and use them from there as from the fridge where they will spoil very quickly.
  • If you do store herbs in the fridge, wrap them in a clean towel inside a bag to prevent them from wilting in their own moisture.

Cilantro: (most-frequently discussed topic at our GLS booth!)

  • This is one of the most challenging herbs to store, and especially troublesome because we generally want to eat it fresh, not frozen and then thawed! It will last longest if you stand it in a jar of water with a plastic bag placed loosely over the top.

Green Onions:

  • The greens rot quickly, so wrap a paper towel or clean cloth around them to absorb any moisture. This will extend their life for days or even weeks.
  • Instead of tossing the root end, pop it in a jar of water on the windowsill. It will drink and re-grow new greens for you!

Salad Greens (and prone-to-wilting kale)

  • Wash, then store inside thick shopping bags, tied up but keeping an air balloon inside. This gives them their own airy microclimate but keeps the plastic from resting against the leaves and creating too much moisture.
  • Crispers are generally a bit warmer than the other parts of the fridge, which is good. This will prevent delicate leaves from freezing
  • Segregate from fruits (especially apples) to keep greens fresher longer
  • I always wash my lettuce when I get it home, use one clean dishtowel to pat it mostly-dry, then wrap it loosely in another clean dishtowel, and slip that into a bag. They last for weeks this way, and I’ve done it for years!


  • Keep away from gas-releasing fruits like apples, avocados, peaches, and tomatoes.
  • Keep it in the HIGH HUMIDITY drawer (lever closed, preventing air from coming in).
  • If you store it in plastic, make sure it’s breathable, or poke holes in the bag.
  • To freeze: 1. Wash thoroughly 2. Cut into pieces 3. Plunge into boiling water for three minutes and chill quickly in ice cold water 4. Drain off excess moisture and freeze in airtight containers or bags (this process is called blanching. Carrots, beans, cauliflower, kale, etc. can all be blanched and stored in the freezer)


  • Did you know you can freeze avocado puree?
  • Have you ever cut into an avocado to find it’s still not ripe? Just sprinkle some lemon juice on the flesh, put the halves back together, and it’ll continue to ripen.
  • More terrific tips on all-things-avocado!



  • One of the worst ethylene gas emitters! This gas speeds up the ripening process of other fruits, so store them separately from others.
  • Ethylene gas is worst when fruits are at room temperature, so to slow down ripening, refrigerate apples. On the other hand, if too firm or sour, let them ripen at room temperature. This is also why apples make poor neighbours in a fruit bowl on the counter. They are off-gassing ethylene to their fruit-bowl mates, making them all ripen quickly.
  • If you’d like to freeze apples: wash and core them, chop them up, and store them in bags or containers (indefinitely!).
  • If an apple gets a bad spot, the rest of the apple is not affected! You can cut around the bad spot and eat the rest, or cook it with your oatmeal, or make applesauce, or millions of other recipes.
  • Is it necessary to peel your apples? Peeling wastes the most nutritious part of the apple, your time, and your food!

FoodWaste Infographic_A (2)


  • To speed ripening, put them in a brown paper bag. This will trap their ethylene gas and encourage them to ripen.
  • To stop them ripening, put them in the fridge—the skins will turn dark but the fruit is not harmed. You can also wrap the stem with a little plastic to prevent the release of ethylene gas.
  • Avoid putting unripe bananas in the fridge, as this will impede the early stages of ripening and spoil the fruit.
  • To freeze, mash with a tsp of lemon juice per cup of bananas to prevent browning.
  • What do you do with brown bananas? They are delightfully still edible! Just mash them, freeze them, and they are ready for use in smoothies, muffins, or fritters.
    • I told “Joe” at the show that I’d share a no-fail recipe for banana pancakes that even he could make: try this one, Joe, and let us know how it goes!

Dairy / Meat / Eggs

Cottage Cheese / Yogurt / Sour Cream:

  • Leave them in their container, and use only a clean spoon for scooping. Any bacteria on the spoon will make dairy go off quickly.
  • If you serve it in a separate dish but don’t use it all, don’t return it to the container, but cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap.
  • *Trick* Store the container upside-down to create an air-lock that will prevent bacteria from growing.


  • Does your hard cheese get mouldy before you reach the end of the block?
    • If so, once you open it, you should wrap it in wax paper to allow for breathing. Hard cheeses don’t actually love the store packaging they come in.
    • You can also freeze half the block if you won’t eat it quickly enough. It gets a bit crumbly after thawing, but its flavour remains! One lady told me she always stores her mozzarella in the freezer because it’s faster to crumble it onto pizza than to grate it!
  • Mould! If the cheese develops a blue-green mold on the exterior, make a cut about a ½ inch below the mold to ensure that it has been entirely removed; the remaining cheese will be fine. WHO KNEW!?


  • If you don’t drink milk quickly, don’t store it in the doors where the fridge is warmest.
  • To save money, buy milk in bags and store them in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge when you are ready to use a bag.
  • Milk can be frozen for weeks. If it doesn’t thaw to perfect consistency, just stick it in the blender and it will be good as new!
  • If your milk is starting to get old, bake it in cakes and pancakes instead of tossing it.

FoodWaste Infographic_A (1)


  • Keep meat where it is coldest (back of the fridge, and typically the bottom shelf—though your fridge may be different).
  • Avoid any accidental dripping onto foods by keeping a tray underneath it.
  • If you have a deep-freeze, meat will last and resist freezer burn a lot longer there than in your fridge freezer.


  • To test for freshness, pop an egg in a tall glass of water. If it floats, it is getting stale. Fresh eggs stay near the bottom. Even if stale, eggs are likely still safe – especially for baking. Eggs are only worth chucking when they start to exhibit an off odor.
  • If you are going on holiday and can’t eat all your eggs, freeze them before you leave! Beat and freeze in small containers (one or two eggs’ worth) for easy use later in cakes, quiches, and muffins. They’ll last 10 months!

Other tips

“Duh” reminders:

Seriously, we all forget about food, hiding shoved in the back of our fridges. These visual reminders work really well for my friends:

  • Leftovers / Eat First Bin
    • Keep a container at eye-level and place the items that need to be eaten promptly there. This is especially useful if sharing the fridge with a busy household where it’s easy to lose track of things, or if you have kids who are old enough to help themselves to snacks, but not yet old enough to be creative and make their own food and need some guidance.
  • Reminders on the Fridge Door:
    • To avoid forgetting about highly perishable items, use your grocery receipt to highlight perishable items that need to be used in a timely fashion. Stick it on the door to remind yourself about that punnet of blackberries shoved to the back, or that broccoli hiding under the lettuce.
    • Use a whiteboard to keep track of perishables, leftovers, or things you don’t want to forget before they spoil.
    • Keep labels and a marker beside the fridge to date leftovers, or to write “eat me!” notes on tupperwares for kids grabbing snacks.
  • Check the temperature of your fridge:
    • Keep fridge at 1-5ºC for optimum life of your products.
    • To test your fridge’s temperature, take a few measurements because it can fluctuate as it cycles through the day.
    • A cooler fridge uses slightly more energy; however, by increasing the lifespan of food products, the economic and environmental savings are statistically proven to be greater overall.

Finicky Creatures


Avocados, bananas, nectarines and peaches, pears, plums and tomatoes say:

“Only refrigerate me once I’m totally ripe! Too early, and I will lose moisture and flavour, and won’t ripen properly, even once brought back to room temperature.”

Ethylene Gas Emitters

Most fruits release ethylene gas which ripens produce. By keeping them in the fridge, you s l o w    t h i s    p r o c e s s   and extend their life.

Unless you want them to ripen faster, do not store fruits and veggies in airtight bags. That will hold in their gas, speeding up decay.

  • Particularly Bad Ethylene Emitters: apples, apricots, cantaloupes, figs, and honeydew. Keep separate from things you don’t want to ripen!

Those Confusing Best-Before Dates

Contrary to many assumptions, “Best Before” does not mean “Poisonous After.” In fact, these dates are only guidelines! See this handy infographic to help you understand their confusing formats.

Fall in love with your Freezer

Not a fan of leftovers for three days straight? Freeze in individual servings to grab for lunches on the run later in the week or month!

Going on holiday? Pop things in the freezer to save them from spoiling in your absence.

Grocery stores encourage us to “buy big” to benefit from lower cost-per-unit or 2-for-1 deals. Unfortunately, when we can’t eat it all in time and the food gets tossed, this is the opposite of a cost-saving!

  • If you buy your milk in bags, freeze them until you are ready to drink them;
  • If you buy a large cut of meat, freeze portions for later;
  • If you can’t make it through the whole loaf of bread, store it in the freezer and only take out a slice or two at a time as needed;
  • If you buy a whole squash but only need half for your recipe, cook and store the puree for later use in soup or baking

…Do you have a friendship with your freezer? Share other ideas with us!

What constitutes “inedible” in your house? Carrot / apple / potato peels? Beet or carrot greens? Cheese rinds? “Odd” cuts of meat or organs? Bones? These examples are all nutritious and delicious! Share with us your creative recipes or uses for the food that others might toss out!

4.5 kgs of food a week! Does MY house waste that?

Here at the Guelph Food Waste Research Project, we are most interested in households’ food wasting habits: what you waste, why you waste it, and your beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours around food waste. It’s a fascinating exploration! For two years, we’ve been collecting data on how much and what kinds of food we are wasting at home, and then connecting this data with survey results to discern the reasons why we waste food at home.

Here is a little peek at some of our findings

The average household’s weekly food waste production was 4.5kg. Do you waste this much food? Think about it carefully, because another finding we uncovered was that the more you are concerned about waste, the less food you throw away. 64% of all food waste was avoidable or possibly avoidable. Think next time you want to toss food. Is it actually inedible?

  • Is it leftovers you don’t feel like anymore? Think of the cost that went into producing that meal, and how much more energy it will take you to cook a new one.
  • Is it nearing its best-before date? Toss it in the freezer or fridge to halt that progression of time.
  • Is it more than your family can eat? Next time, plan your shopping so you don’t end up in this situation. Making a list and checking your fridge before setting out is a really simple action that is proven to significantly help you prevent food waste.
  • Is it really “waste”? Why do we cut off the most nutritious parts of apples, potatoes and carrots—their peels? Maybe think twice about chucking beet greens, carrot tops, and bones. All of these can be repurposed into more delicious food!
photo (23)

Using food scraps to start new sprouts

A photo from our audits of the organic waste stream

50% of avoidable food waste was fresh fruits and vegetables. Come see us at the Green Living Show for a suite of tips/tricks on how to extend the life of your fresh produce. But in the meantime, check out the highly useful storage tips chart here. Who knew apples are finicky bedfellows that cause other types of produce to age faster?

Eating out more means more food waste. You do a big weekly shop, but get busy during the week and end up buying lunch at work, or picking up take-out on the way home. …but then all the food in your fridge remains uneaten, and eventually turns into waste. If this sounds like a problem you have, look here for easy meal planning resources to help you take control of your hectic weeks! Or tell the LoveFoodHateWaste website what you’ve got, and they’ll give you recipes to save you the “what’s for dinner” headache.

The more food-aware and waste-aware our respondents were, the less food waste they created. So don’t stop learning and thinking about food waste, and keep experimenting with new tactics to lower your food waste levels…so you can boast that you are lowering these sobering statistics!

You say you want a food waste revolution?

Have you heard about The Real Junk Food Project?

You have to find out about it, because this UK project is revolutionizing the way we think about food waste and how we deal with food insecurity.

What is it…

Growing rapidly in number across the UK, the Real Junk Food cafes receive donations of food that will be wasted by large grocers, wholesalers, bakers, and the like. Inventive cooks create delicious meals on an-ever changing menu, and serve it on a “pay what you can” basis.

How it changes the food charity model…

Many charity food provisioning schemes rely on donated food near its expiry date that would otherwise be “garbage. “ However, this system is criticized as demoralizing for vulnerable, food-insecure recipients and creates a stigmatizing attitude that “beggars can”t be choosers.”

TRJFP, however, upends this idea. Because of the pay-as-you-feel policy, the system “transcends monetary transactions.” Diners can pay as little or as much as they wish, but are also free to “pay” in alternative ways: by trading, or donating skills and time. This breaks down the social stratification dividing communities along class and wealth lines. The cafes serve as hubs for social change by building community, and providing dignified access to terrific food to relieve the burden of hunger and poverty.

It’s a revolutionary take on food waste…

Using this unconventional business model, the RJFP makes no attempt to profit off the broken system, where one-third of food is wasted, totalling $750 billion globally on an annual basis. Rather, the food itself—lacking economic worth to the retailers who donate it—is re-valued when cooked into these gourmet meals. That this food can on one hand be deemed “garbage,” but on another, provide nutritious, wholesome meals to hundreds of diners a day highlights the absurdity of the contemporary food system and the arbitrariness of “waste” definitions.

The RJFP calls attention to food waste in a beautiful way that provides value on countless levels, to individuals, communities, and food systems.

Check out this terrific 10-minute documentary.  Some of the quotes are simply golden! Maybe it’ll be an inspiration? When can we see Real Junk Food Cafes in North America?

Feeding Nine Billion: A new path to tread toward a food-secure 2050?


Over the past two years, academics have started turning attention to the connections between food waste and food insecurity. They are acknowledging that globally, forty percent of food is wasted and that this limits the amount of food available to feed a ballooning population (expected to rise to nine billion by 2050). Interestingly, this acknowledgement provides a robust counter-argument to the common tirade touted by agri-business—that genetic engineering and agricultural intensification is the only option to serve future food needs. Instead, this new research indicates that the puzzle of adequate food production has long been solved. We currently produce enough food to feed 10 billion people—why continue chasing unnecessary goals to increase yields? What we instead need to do is attend to food chain inefficiencies.

While the literature examining food waste in relation to food security provides a much-needed and legitimate alternative to tired agribusiness claims, it is still nascent. The work published so far does not adequately draw out the logic between the two issues. Relating them only cursorily can encourage belief that addressing food waste will automatically resolve the challenge of rising global hunger—a dangerous assumption indeed.

Instead of seeing them solely as problems, there is a growing tendency to frame massive food waste issues as opportunities to ameliorate hunger.

For example, many reason that if less food were wasted early along the supply chain (in production, processing, storage, and transport), more would be available on market shelves. But with little research demonstrating how this would affect economics of supply and demand, we cannot assume that this food would become affordable to those who need it. So lowering levels of waste may not necessarily impact levels of hunger. When the primary cause of hunger is poverty, increasing availability but not affordability will do little to ameliorate levels of food-insecurity.

Food supply chain

A long food supply chain creates many opportunities where food is wasted.

Further along the food supply chain (retailing and food service), “recovery” charities allow us to view food waste as an opportunity for hunger-alleviation. “Recovery” refers to work done by food banks and other charity-based emergency food providers to rescue food as it nears the end of its life, and to redistribute it for free. A related initiative is “gleaning,” where volunteers gather produce left in fields after harvest. These programs provide critical services to prevent some food waste and to provide meals to those with tight budgets, but they cannot keep up. Charity-based, volunteer-run, resource-constrained programs working independently at a small-scale do not have the capacity to reconcile the massive structural issues of food waste and food insecurity.

Both of these examples illustrate how food waste is increasingly being viewed as a food security solution, but in a too-simplistic way. Food waste is inextricably associated with food insecurity, and it is uplifting to see attention swing toward waste reduction rather than intensification as means to cope with the food needs of a burgeoning population. However, academics must not draw a facile equation between potentially available food and hunger solutions. Waste and hunger are two structurally-rooted issues. Solving them requires a systems-shakeup, and equal attention paid to both—not just a vague notion that increasing supply chain efficiency will automatically provide food for the world’s most vulnerable.

That is why we need to take cues from smart partnerships that allow for holistic, multi-scalar approaches to this twofold problem. One example is the powerhouse team here at the University of Guelph. Dr. Evan Fraser, who has devoted his career to the challenge of feeding nine billion hungry mouths by 2050, pairs with Dr. Kate Parizeau, a food waste expert who also devotes much of her academic career to issues faced by marginalized and poverty-afflicted populations. Dr. Parizeau works with Dr. Mike Von Massow, from the restaurant and hospitality industry and a champion of food waste initiatives, as well as Dr. Ralph Martin who is a national leader in sustainable agriculture. They work with municipal government to examine food waste at a household level, so this combination creates a team that sees the whole picture of food waste from production to post-plate, but importantly, through a social lens of global food insecurity and poverty.

We need more work like this. At the recent National Assembly of Food Secure Canada, 450 food security advocates, leaders, and practitioners gathered—yet the negligible conversation around food waste seemed a lost opportunity. Groups such as Food Secure Canada, which bring together a diverse cocktail of food systems actors working from the “grassroots” (community) to the “grasstops” (policy) provide ideal fora for working through this complicated relationship between waste and hunger

In face of complex issues, the emerging literature misleadingly distills the message to “solving food waste will solve food insecurity.” These two wicked problems require partnerships. It is through such partnerships that we can employ realistic, multi-scalar solutions on the ground and with policy to remedy the inappropriate structures upholding food waste and food insecurity. This new direction away from agricultural intensification and toward food efficiency is an exciting, positive new direction to tread toward a food-secure 2050. Keep your eyes on it!

Follow @feeding9billion, @kjhodgins and this blog. Choose your own comfortable spot on the food supply chain to work toward tackling waste, with the concept of hunger-alleviation top-of-mind. Get involved in your food policy councils, or contribute your energies to Food Secure Canada.

Much ado about food waste; Much to do about food waste…. Making change inside an overwhelming food crisis

Seeking answers for what to do about the increasingly publicized food waste crisis, I recently attended a screening of the much-buzzed-about film “Just Eat It.” Hosted by Tammara Soma, food waste PhD candidate, in conjunction with the Toronto Food Policy Council, the event hosted a full-house for the show, followed by a panel discussion.

I won’t say a lot about the film, except to recommend it highly for its unique ability to appeal to and resonate with all ages and types. Alongside fabulous cinematography and hilarious central characters, viewers are provided a comprehensive understanding of the scope of the problem. But, the film also holds potential to overwhelm and foster uncertainty about how to affect change. For this reason, the subsequent question period was invaluable. For those who weren’t there, I want to share the empowering messages contained within that rich discussion. Ado about Food Waste: The Discussion

Part A) Whose Job is it Anyway?

A core topic centred on individuals’ roles in addressing the behemoth crisis of food waste. It began with an invitation to the five panelists to comment on the film’s take-home message, voiced by Tristram Stuart. A celebrity food waste activist and prominent voice throughout the film, Stuart told viewers that addressing food waste “doesn’t require a complete revolution in the way we treat food. It’s just tweaking it slightly…and usually in delicious ways.”

Having just watched an hour’s worth of documentary data which indicated that this problem is multi-scalar, complex, tied up in politics, and embedded in capitalism, Stuart’s advice struck as a tad inadequate. Indeed, agreed the panelists almost unanimously: the problem of food waste is out of control. Rectifying it would require massive shifts, not a slight tweak. Luckily, panelist Dr. Wayne Roberts (with his uncanny ability to lend a balanced perspective when it’s most needed) pointed out how “easy it is to get stuck on a half-truth.” He said, “it is true that there are literally hundreds of things that people can do to prevent waste. And at the same time it is also true that you need to have a complete transformation or revolution in the way that food is treated. They are both equally half-truths.”

And so, the audience and panelists talked through the various ways of moving forward, attempting to work out the frustrating puzzle of roles and responsibilities in ameliorating the food waste challenge—and gains were made!

Part B) I’m too Small in the Whole Scheme of Things!

The confusion over the need for consumer-driven versus politically-mandated change came up repeatedly. More specifically, consumers are blamed, but feel their actions are constrained by the system. For example, one woman protested that consumers are frequently blamed for “demanding a product that looks a certain way.” But, she argued, “that’s only what’s provided to us! I would gladly take an ugly vegetable! How do we make that change?” In a similar vein, PhD student Isabel Urrita reasoned that this film is not the only arena that emphasizes the consumer’s responsibility for food waste, saying that in academia as well, “a lot of research has been geared toward blaming the consumer….but I think [researchers] sidestep the issue that a lot of individual behaviours are shaped by foodscapes that are shaped by more powerful actors.” Master’s candidate Maya Fromstein summarized a tension wherein “this whole issue of food waste keeps talking about the consumer [when in fact] it’s more of an issue with the system!” A continued focus on consumers to change habits does not meaningfully fix the system because consumers comprise just one point in the chain. These are legitimate arguments, but, if 51% of total food waste occurs at the household level, consumers must own up to the problem, contended panelist Hélène St. Jacques.

Much to do about Food Waste: The Solutions

Starting from the ground and moving up to structural change, panelists offered an array of tools for repairing the broken food system. Panelist Michelle Coyne from Second Harvest pointed out that effective consumer-level changes need not be challenging. The best thing to do is “eat food. Any solution to food waste is going take many approaches but quite simply, we need to eat the food we produce!”

But the audience despaired in the scope of the problem that lay beyond their control as eaters. So panelists provided advice for making steps toward affecting systems-level change. For example, panelist Jamie Reaume reasoned that “most people don’t care.” He stressed the importance of building passion in others. “Just Eat It” does a terrific job of educating. It is individuals’ job then, to create a stronger social movement around food waste beyond the auditorium doors. Highlighting the youthful energy in the room, and drawing on the example of the local food movement (once a counterculture but now taken up by major retailers, leaders, and even legislated in Ontario), he said that consumers must leverage their concern to build a unified movement capable of affecting structural change.

To provide a way of doing this, Wayne Roberts offered first steps to influencing policy. He recommended collaborating to list the 10 most problematic laws which uphold a wasteful food system. Then “pick a few of them and defy them,” because “governments cannot withstand that scrutiny.” Adding to this, panelist Annette Synowiec reminded everyone that city councillors are the champions for their constituents: strong communication will see real results.

St. Jacques finished by illustrating that the broken system is a by-product of a generation that held assumptions of abundance. “But you are a new wave, you are thinking differently, you see the world more clearly,” she emphasized, pointing out that younger generations internalize the reality that the world comprises finite resources, so prioritize decisions differently.

We still disagree with Tristram Stuart’s claim that the system only needs “tweaking.” However, this forum provided us the toolkit to arm ourselves with the tools we are comfortable swinging while we reformat the system at various places in various ways. What we need is a revolution of the food system if we want to ameliorate food waste. However, this conversation helped us to recognize that the revolution is feasible through millions of tweaks at every level. That, I can act upon. What about you?

Let “Just Eat It” be the catalyst for unified action. Watch the film, talk about it, and please, pick up a tool before you walk out of that auditorium.

Here’s a start! Follow these guys on Twitter:

Tristram StuartJust Eat ItJonathan Bloom