Food waste, insects and urban gardens at the Feeding 9 billion challenge

From Saturday, September 17th to the following Sunday, students from the University of Guelph worked tirelessly to develop a tangible solution to food insecurity. The event, called the Feeding 9 billion Challenge, was originally developed by Guelph Professor Evan Fraser and has spread to universities across the country. Over the course of the weekend, students divided into groups based on shared interests. By the end of the challenge, some amazing ideas had formed that have the potential reduce and food insecurity.

Judges giving feedback to the groups. Image: Ideas Congress via Twitter

It was very encouraging to see many of the groups focus on reducing and redirecting food waste for their solution. One promising idea was “Late Night Bite”; an app with with users can buy discounted food (that would otherwise be tossed) from restaurants and businesses just before closing time. Other ideas included a food truck that serves recovered food waste, as well as an increase in insect protein consumption to replace livestock-based diets.

The students involved in the challenge will be developing their ideas over the course of the fall semester and will undoubtedly have some amazing final pitches in December.

You can read more about the Feeding 9 Billion challenge here.

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Guelph prof develops natural spray that keeps produce fresh for longer

Jay Subramanian's has developed a spray that would extend the lifespan of peaches and nectarines by at least week - doubling its shelf life.

With the application of the spray, peaches could see an extended shelf life of up to 10 days. (Image from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/guelph-fruit-spray-extends-shelf-life)

A large portion of global food waste occurs when fresh produce goes bad before we have the opportunity to buy or consume it. Produce often rots on grocery store shelves or in our fridges and fruit bowls, due to the long distances that food travels in our far-reaching food system. There are solutions to this issue, such as buying local and only purchasing produce that you need, but in case that these techniques don’t work (i.e. shipping fresh produce to remote communities) science, as usual, is there to save the day.

As a professor of plant science at the University of Guelph, Jay Subramanian understands all too well the swiftness with which picked produce can become inedible. Although there are currently a variety of protective coatings and waxes that are sprayed onto fruits and vegetables, Subramanian’s protective spray is innovative in its nanotechnology-based approach.

The spray is made from hexanol, a natural component in plants which inhibits the enzyme that breaks down cell walls, causing fruits and vegetable to shrivel and rot.

“Once the walls are protected, the cells are intact and so the whole fruit stays intact,”Subramanian said in an interview with CBC.

Prof. Jay Subramanian. Photo by Martin Schwalbe

Prof. Jay Subramanian. (Photo by Martin Schwable. Image from news.uoguelph.ca)

The spray is perfectly safe for consumption and can be washed off. It can be applied as a spray one and two weeks before harvest, or the fruit can instead be dipped in a hexanol solution postharvest. The result? Fruit lasts up to 50% longer. According to Subramanian, bananas can last up to 40 days, mangos up to 23 and nectarines and peaches have an extended life of up to 10 days, on top of the usual one week they usually have to remain edible.

Subramanian’s project was funded by Global Affairs Canada, through the International Development Program. It also worked with partners in India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania and Trinidad and Tabago. The spray is still being reviewed in Canada for commercial use, but the project has hopes of going international in the next four years.

Read more about the hexanol spray here.

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!
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Using food scraps to start new sprouts

https://guelphfoodwaste.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/sam_1309.jpg?w=361&h=276

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!

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

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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.