Zero Waste Grocery Shopping

When it comes to food shopping, it is often difficult to purchase the foods we want while avoiding the excess packaging. A few supermarkets have taken the approach of making the customer bring the packaging, and selling everything packaging free (an approach that used to be the norm). This is appealing to environmentalists, but also bargain hunters who will pay less without the plastic wrap.

In France, ‘Day by Day’ is a small chain selling 450 unpackaged products that are mostly dry goods. In Berlin, Original Unverpackt  is also selling food without the bags.  Of course if you don’t have a store that’s specifically committed to this, it’s still possible to cut back on packaging by bringing your own bags and shopping at places with less packaging, such as farmers markets or bulk food stores. This is relatively simple, but requires some changes to our habits that can help us avoid unnecessary waste. Like the tagline for the Strictly Bulk in Toronto, says: “because you don’t eat packaging.”

The Robin Hood Army

Photograph: Robin Hood Army

Food waste is a world-wide phenomenon, and so is food rescue. In India and Pakistan, a group called the Robin Hood Army, inspired by Refood International, has taken up the task of redistributing excess food from restaurants and catering.  Started just last year, the organization already has a volunteer base of over 500 people in 13 cities (mainly recruited through social media). Right now the organization is reaching around 5,000 people.  While food rescue isn’t the first option in the waste hierarchy, it is still one way of filling in the gaps in the food system. These individuals are taking action to combat waste and hunger in their own cities.

Read more on the the Robin Hood Army:

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/jun/02/the-robin-hood-army-fighting-food-waste-in-india-and-pakistan

Crying over spilled milk

Whether or not you are in favor of the supply-managed dairy system in Ontario, when 800,000 litres of milk gets dumped, you know that something just isn’t quite right. The Globe and Mail’s article blew this wide open and revealed that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, when faced with a greater demand for higher fat dairy products, were left with a great deal of skim milk, which was then periodically disposed. This has amounted to 800,000 litres, just since the end of May. The article places heavy blame on the supply-managed market for such ‘chronic overproduction.’ I would hesitate to place the blame so heavily on the market system, as overproduction happens in an open market as well, but rather on the fact that this type of loss is considered acceptable because it is still profitable. Even if producers refuse to sell skim milk at a reduced price, and facilities dehydrating skim milk into powder are full, there are still alternatives to dumping such as donating, or at the very least feeding to animals. What is scandalous is that while the dairy board may feel like this is an affordable loss since farmers are making money from cream and butter, it is still a loss of resources, energy, time, and money that went into producing the dairy.

Clearly there is a problem with the system if this sort of waste is acceptable to the industry. What is reassuring, however, is the public response. People have reacted with shock and anger to the disposal of this quantity of milk, which shows a level of concern that hopefully can impact producers to reconsider their practices and create a more efficient system.

Get the whole story here:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/dairy-dilemma-time-to-dump-subsidies-not-milk/article25045134/

http://www.betterfarming.com/online-news/dairy-farmers-ontario-dumps-skim-milk-surplus-60918

Eat My Words-Don’t Waste

Some super creative kids from Lammas School in London have made a song and music video to promote their anti-food waste message.  This was created by students who teamed up with the non-profit This is Rubbish at the event “Eat My Words” where students used spoken word and music to create awareness of food waste.  Check out their video, you’ll find yourself singing this all day.

Disco Soupe

It seems like every really awesome initiative to combat food waste that I come across lately has its roots or inspiration in Berlin: Disco Soupe is no exception. Disco Soupe was inspired by Tristram Stuart’s ‘Feeding 5000’ and more directly an event by the Slow Food movement in Berlin (“Schnippel Disko”) as part of the larger protest, “We are fed up!” Disco Soupe is centered in France where most of the events are held; however, events have been held in more than twenty-five countries to date and its ‘open source’ format means it is adaptable depending on the context.

But what is a Disco Soupe?  It’s basically an anti-waste, food rescue party. Anyone can host an event if they adhere to the tenets and spirit of Disco Soupe. Events are free or pay what you want, must use edible but discarded or donated food that would otherwise be wasted, and welcome everyone and anyone in peeling, cooking and eating the food all the while with music playing. A key tenet is also that food safety rules be observed, and no meal has resulted in health problems to date, showing (yet again) that food rescue doesn’t mean compromising food safety. Disco Soupe is fervently “Anti-Gaspi” (anti-waste) and raises a call to arms in the form of large rescued food dinners that are more a musical cooking and eating festival in their atmosphere. Since its start in 2012, Disco Soupe has served 42,000 meals, at 100 different events.

Disco Soupe is a great example of how people can come together to protest waste, but also to form a part of a community, cook together, and help spread the “Anti-Gaspi” gospel to others. If you want to learn more check out their website or Facebook.

It’s amazing what can happen when you get the public talking about the issue of food waste. While Disco Soupes are not enough to end food waste, they pack a serious punch in driving home the magnitude of waste to the public. As our research has shown, people who are more food conscious (which can start by cooking your own food) and more waste conscious are likely to waste less food. Disco Soupe events are a creative tool in making use of retail waste, but also potentially changing people’s food waste habits in a way that isn’t shaming, but rather enjoyable.

For additional info go to discosoupe.org or for something in English you can read more at http://www.shareable.net/blog/disco-soup-fighting-food-waste-to-a-disco-groove

Food waste fueling your flight?

Farm waste, animal fat, and your everyday food waste could be what fuel your next flight. Farm waste and food waste can be broken down by anaerobic digestion and used to create biogas and power. This fuel is being seen as a potential renewable fuel for the transportation industry and one that creates significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels.

At Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind., an anaerobic digester converts half a million gallons of cow and hog manure each day into enough renewable energy to run a fleet of 42 milk delivery trucks.

United Airlines has already purchased 15 million gallons of renewable jet fuel made from beef tallow by Alt Air Fuels, and plans to use the fuel this year for Los Angeles-to-San Francisco flights. Additionally, the airline has invested $30 million in Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc., which uses household garbage, including food waste, for its fuel feed stock. There is still work to be done in the field (particularly finding efficient locations and ways of creating this renewable energy), but it may not be far off before flying on our food waste becomes the norm.

FoPo, Food Powder

Image result for fopo

While dehydrating food, or making food powder isn’t a completely novel idea, grad students at Lund University in Sweden are taking a new approach with their product-FoPo: their food powder brand which they believe will help tackle hunger, food waste and nutrition. The freeze-dried food powder has a shelf life of around 2 years, and is made from foods which are nearly past their prime and may not otherwise be sold. The students are taking technology which isn’t exactly new, but proposing a new look at the food value chain. FoPo involves buying up would be food waste and removing the moisture and converting it to powder form, thereby extending its life from a few days to a few years while maintaining its nutritional properties. It can then be resold to stores, food manufacturers and NGOs or relief organizations. The powdered form also maintains nutrients in the food and could be used as an addition to water, smoothies, soups, ice cream, etc. FoPo has already gained momentum as a runner up in the 2014 Food for Thought challenge, winner of the Ben and Jerrry’s Join-Our-Core  competition, and a Staff Pick on Kickstarter. The team is now running a pilot program in Manila, Philippines and is to begin working with the United Nation’s Initiative on Food Loss and Waste to find other ways to use FoPo to curb  waste and feed the food insecure.

http://www.foodincanada.com/research-and-development/team-turns-food-waste-into-usable-food-powder-called-fopo-131712/

John Oliver takes on food waste

Food waste took center stage on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Oliver basically summed up all the problems of food waste in a hilarious but also sobering rant. He quite thoroughly confronted the problem of food waste in America, including the paradox of food insecurity in the face of massive waste, the environmental impact of food waste, and the financial costs as well.

Oliver says, “Food waste is like the band Rascal Flatts: it can fill a surprising number of stadiums even though most people consider it complete garbage.”   Check out the whole video (although fair warning – it isn’t entirely G rated):

Who’s helping fight food waste

The Guardian has run numerous articles on the topic of food waste, including one highlighting a few waste warriors in the area of food loss and waste. Check out some inspiring stories about people and organizations who are making a difference in the world of food waste, including charities who rescue food and serve up meals, and tech savvy entrepreneurs who link farmers and buyers or retailers and volunteers for pick ups.  Read their stories here. 

Reducing food waste shouldn’t reinforce food poverty stigma

When people are confronted with the enormous problem of food waste in society, one common initial idea is that it should just be collected and given to ‘the poor.’ I remember speaking with a girl in France who was arguing very passionately that the wasted food from supermarkets and restaurants should go to homeless people (and she’s finally getting her wish). However, when I asked if she herself  would like to eat that food, she was less than enthused – but still felt that someone else ought to.

Of course it may be very well meaning to want to see someone benefit from the waste,  but this is problematic because it ignores strategies higher up in the waste hierarchy, namely reducing food waste (then you can use all your saved money to help someone out). It also feels pretty condescending. Who are ‘the poor’? Just because they are in some way disadvantaged, should they be expected to eat what you or someone else has deemed ‘garbage’?  Well maybe ‘one man’s trash is another’s treasure’ and ‘beggars can’t be choosers,’ but personally I hope there are approaches that can maintain the recipients’ dignity and perhaps offer a bit more choice.

This isn’t an area with easy solutions, although as mentioned one option might be to waste less and use your saved money for donations which give people more power to choose, or food banks the ability to buy what is actually needed. However, even with changed habits at home, businesses are still going to have food that for one reason or another is edible but not salable. How can we de-stigmatize this food?  I know from my experience that a lot of the food that comes out the back doors of stores and restaurants is totally edible, so why shouldn’t it go to fill the failures in our food system? Yet things start to get a bit messed up when we start mixing a waste hierarchy with a social hierarchy.  The rich eat the organic filet, the lower middle-class the chicken nuggets, and then anyone below that can eat the leftovers and garbage from the above categories, and no need to ask them – they should just be grateful.  Umm no. Yet while not that simple or explicit, sometimes it feels that this is how we think food waste should be handled. And this model is clearly not that good for the disempowered people who are given food which, however delicious, was perceived as unfit for others yet good enough for them. So how do we challenge these structures? One way is for ritzy restaurants start serving ‘garbage’ food like monk fish heads, or for food rescue organizations open restaurants or catering companies and serve waste food back to a variety of people. This flips the ideas of who should be eating donated or  ‘waste’ food on its head. Rude Food in Sweden serves up delicious meals that are 90% rescued, and it’s not a homeless shelter or inner city feeding program: it’s a catering company.  Food Cycle in the UK  serves meals of rescued food to people who are food insecure or at risk of social isolation, but they also offer a catering service which then helps employ people and fund other programs.I see this sort of use of food waste as posing a greater challenge to the current system, challenging the idea of who should  be eating rescued food, showing that it is good enough for everyone. This is an even more shocking (and hopefully behaviour-changing) idea.

Catering

So what am I trying to say with this uncharacteristically long post? I haven’t solved this, I am confronted with this issue all the time, but I hope to think a bit more critically about equality and dignity when it comes to food and other donations. How can I treat people with the respect that they deserve, to maintain their rights to dignity and choice while doing my part to create a more food secure and waste-less society? Food waste and food poverty shouldn’t co-exist, but food donations are hardly a panacea either.