“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.

Pope Francis denounces 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.

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/days-before-encyclicals-release-pope-condemns-culture-of-waste-26511/

http://www.onuitalia.com/eng/2015/06/11/pope-francis-to-fao-stop-food-waste-food-for-all-people/

Arash Derambarsh bringing the French food waste ban to the EU

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?

In May Arash Derambarsh (centre) succeeded in persuading the French government to pass a law  forcing supermarkets to donate products near their sell-by date to charities.

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/07/campaign-to-cut-supermarket-food-waste-reaches-european-parliament

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/09/french-food-waste-councillor-calls-on-ec-supermarkets-law

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.

[1] http://thecorr.org/programs_food_waste.php

[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.

[3] http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/cathycrowe/2014/12/socks-are-not-enough-social-justice-lies-upstream-charity#.VImkSEh7z-4.twitter

What’s new in the EU

The European Commission has food waste on their radar, but their actions have been a bit difficult to read. Officially, the Commission is cracking down on food waste by promoting action through its Member States.  In 2011, the European Commission identified in the “Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe” that food was a key sector where resource efficiency should be improved, and sounded the call-to-arms on food waste.

In 2014, the Commission put forward objectives for food waste reduction in the EU including a proposal for Member States to create strategies with a target of food waste reduction by at least 30% by 2025 across sectors. European Parliament also declared 2014 the “year against food waste.” Despite these moves, critics like Belgian MEP Bart Staes (see his article here) argued that the Commission had switched gears and was dragging its feet in creating solid policy.

The biggest evidence of this change in pace with the Commission is that the promised publication, “Building a Sustainable European Food System,” which was supposed to be released by early 2014 at the latest, remains unpublished despite non-profits (such as WWF) and a wide range of actors demanding its release.

In most recent developments, however, the European Commission has said that it is seeking to take a broader approach, and therefore released a public consultation on May 28 running until August 20 on its revised Circular Economy Package. This new package moves away from an “exclusive focus on waste management.” The new document does retain the goal that member states cut food waste by 30% by 2025, but broadens the focus from just food waste – which is good, so long as this doesn’t mean more cumbersome progress in creating policy by burying it among other connected issues. Eventually this package will involve a revised legislative proposal on waste and the creation of an action plan on the circular economy.

The consultation document is available here and the Roadmap for the initiative here.

For more information on the European Commission’s food waste initiatives and the Circular Economy Package:

http://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/food_waste/eu_actions/index_en.htm

http://resource.co/article/circular-economy-consultation-out-tomorrow-10161

http://resource.co/article/ec-launches-public-consultation-circular-economy-package-10167

Smiling as we throw out food

While researching organic waste collection programs across Canada I found this photo:

This photo made me disconcerted. It was from a presentation given at a conference entitled, “On the Road to Zero Waste: How Two of North America’s Leaders are Succeeding.”  Nova Scotia was being held up as a shining example of how to crack down on waste. The province certainly has been a forerunner in waste by banning all compostable and recyclable materials from landfill.  One huge area where regulations have made an impact is in the commercial sector. Many municipalities have good success with residents adopting the organic waste “green cart,” but the commercial sector can be a whole other story. That’s why this photo is included in the presentation, and I get it – it’s not always easy to get businesses to participate in waste diversion programs. But what irks me about the photo is she is happily throwing away what appear to be completely safe and tasty Timbits.

We don’t like seeing food become waste.  However, that doesn’t mean we just squirm a little in our seats thinking about food in landfill and then pat ourselves (or Tim Horton’s) on the back for ‘doing the right thing’ and composting like in this photo. Composting is better than the landfill, but it isn’t a panacea: it doesn’t erase the energy, time, labour, and money that went into producing the food. Municipal composting isn’t free, and large scale composting facilities have steep financial and environmental costs. Seeing composting as the best solution ignores the waste hierarchy that most municipalities across Canada hold as the guide to waste reduction and management.

http://www.thinkeatsave.org/

Diversion is good, but it isn’t the best option and municipalities seem to pay lip service to waste prevention and reuse (or food sharing and donation) while directing finances and energy into composting. Municipalities direct residents not first to reduction or sharing or even the backyard composter or worm bin but to the municipal program.The City of Kingston’s website says “If you can eat it, it can go in the Green Bin.” Really the message should be if you can eat it, eat it, then feed your animals or worms your organic non-edibles. Food that is unspoiled is better off in the compost than the landfill, but one step better is for it not to be created and if there is potential waste the first option to be explored should be revaluing as food (although one could make a case that Timbits are hardly food to begin with).  Keeping in line with the waste hierarchy businesses and residents should firstly try to reduce the excess they produce, but when there is unspoiled food about to be thrown out they should put it to use, with food banks willing to accept it or organizations like Second Harvest that use food rescue as a means to combat hunger.

When we stop congratulating businesses for the edible food they compost and instead prevent it from winding up in the waste bin at all, multiple problems are solved at once. Businesses save money by reducing their waste, improve their reputation by helping out the needy, less energy and money is spent on waste transportation and processing, and those in need don’t go hungry. Metro Vancouver has issued a ban similar to Nova Scotia; however, it is making a point of directing businesses to organizations that accept food donations as well as protecting and informing businesses about legality of donating food. Efforts like those in Metro Vancouver offer some hope that a shift is coming. It is time that food waste realities line up with our supposed priorities, to put our money where our mouths are…or perhaps food waste where our mouths are.

Will Forcing Retailers to Donate Excess Food Work to Reduce Waste?

There has been a lot of talk about the new law in France which will compel food retailers to donate unsold food rather than throw it out.  Given our work in food waste, we’ve been asked a lot what our thoughts about it are.  I’m scheduled for a 30 minute call in on radio this afternoon so thought I should pull my thoughts together and a blog post seems a reasonable approach to doing that.

First of all – reducing the amount of food that goes to landfill is a good thing.  We should be looking at more ways to do that.   Secondly, talking about food waste is a good thing.  Higher awareness means lower waste – and not just at retail.  Many Canadian retailers already divert product to food banks – largely from distribution centres.  So what could possibly go wrong?

As always, the details will make all of the difference.  Here are a couple of thoughts about implementation.

Where is the line?  Some product that gets thrown out is clearly still edible and could be re-purposed.  I was speaking to a student who regularly “liberates” food from behind food retailers just the other day.  They found 8 wheels of brie and many potatoes and beets just the other day at a single retailer.  I don’t know why it was thrown out but it was clearly still edible and was used.  There is, however, also a significant volume of inedible spoilage.  Who decides whats good and what isn’t?  What happens to the stuff that isn’t?  Will we burden charitable organizations with increased disposal costs?  This needs to be figured out.

What is donatable?  Fridge space is often an issue at food banks.  What if they don’t want it?  Some stuff simply doesn’t move well at a food bank.  What if they don’t want it?

Who pays?  There is already some donation.  We don’t have a good sense of how much edible food is thrown out – although we know there is some.  If retailers have to pay to sort and ship it to charities (assuming they have the capacity or ship it to multiple locations) this needs to be figured out.  The classic operations management newsvendor problem suggests that as disposal costs go up, optimal order quantity goes down.  Availability may decrease.  That may be a good thing.  Diversion (to charitites, animal feed or others uses) is a secondary objective to not generating the waste in the first place (apologies for the suggestion that providing food to the less fortunate as waste).  Grocery stores may be more inclined to run out than to have to manage the diversion of excess.  That may be a very good thing but it doesn’t increase the food going to food insecure individuals.

In principle this is a good idea.  It remains to be seen whether it truly is in practice.

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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Vegetables

Herbs:

  • 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!

Broccoli:

  • 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)

Avocados:

  • 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!

Fruits

Apples:

  • 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)

Bananas:

  • 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.

Cheese:

  • 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!?

Milk:

  • 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)

Meat:

  • 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.

Eggs:

  • 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

Fridge-finicky:

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!

The Beauty of Ugly Fruit

There has been considerable attention given to Loblaws’ recent announcement of their “Naturally Imperfect “product line.  Naturally imperfect will introduce smaller or slightly misshapen food into grocery stores at a discount.  The idea is to reduce the amount of waste upstream in the value chain and to improve access to these products at lower prices.  Seems like a win win!   I’ve had the chance to speak about it several times and, as always, things become clearer after you’ve spoken so a blog post seemed like a great idea.

A Great Idea

Reducing food waste is a great idea.  Its not clear how much of some of this product is getting thrown out versus diverted into processing.  That’s why we need more research on food waste at all stages of the value chain (a shameless plug for our ongoing project).  What is clear is that some small produce is difficult to put through processing and is thrown out.

Improving access to affordable fruits and vegetables is a great idea.  The price for perfection is higher.  While we spend a lower proportion of our income on food than almost anywhere else in the world, we do have food insecure people and others who perhaps eat less fresh healthy produce than they might if it was more affordable.  Why should we hold everyone’s diet hostage to a misguided standard of beauty.  The nutrition is identical.

Raising awareness of food waste is a great idea.  Our research suggests that the more people think about food and waste, the less food they waste.  Just talking about the issue like this has the real potential to reduce household food waste – which we’ve measured at 4.5 kg per household per week.

Is there a downside?

There are folks at some farm organizations saying that this initiative has the potential to erode the prices they receive for their premium produce.  That might be true but its not clear that it will happen.

1 – The economics of this aren’t as clear as the critics might suggest.

  • if consumers don’t buy it, it won’t matter.  I hardly expect that everyone will buy naturally imperfect so premium products will still exist.  If lot’s of them buy it demand will drive the price up.
  • When prices are lower, total demand increases.  The increase in total demand may increase revenues rather than decrease them.  Its not clear what will happen but this is as plausible as decreased revenues.
  • Even if prices come down, the cost of production includes the produce that is thrown away.  Including that in the total sales means revenue should increase.
  • If the price for imperfect food that is not wasted is too low, the product will get diverted to processing markets rather than retail.  The market will figure it out.

2 – This is not the first time I’ve had someone say we should continue to waste food to support farm returns.  I had someone stand up once at a presentation and say we shouldn’t encourage household food waste reduction because it would lower demand and cost jobs and revenue in the production and processing sector.  Its heartbreaking to consider that we would produce food to throw out just to keep people employed.  Even if prices come down (which I argue above is not a sure thing), do we really want to use resources to produce product just to throw it away?  Consumers can and will make the choice.  Change happens.  This position is indefensible and unsustainable.  I can’t imagine making the argument in any other sector.  We should scrap cars off the assembly line just to keep people in Windsor and Oshawa employed?

We should celebrate this initiative.  We should buy these products.  We should expand it to other product.  We should expand it to other stores.  Everyone, including producers, processors and retailers will be better off in the long run.