Annually, between a third and one half of all food produced is wasted globally. With a growing population, food waste is a growing problem. For example, by 2050, the world population will have grown from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion people, adding to the already pressing issue offood security. The Guardian specifies, globally, 45% of all fruits and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals and 20% of meat and dairy products are wasted by suppliers, retailers and consumers a year. According to the FAO, developing countries and industrialized countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food. The only difference that is important here is that food loss occurs mainly at the earl stages of food production in developing countries. In the United States, more food is spoiled and thrown away retail outlets and in home. Letting food go to waste is a poor use of natural resources: it weakens the food supply, inflates prices and drives up costs. Waste occurs all along the food chain from food production, in the store themselves and during consumption. Due to overproduction, market changes and strict aesthetic requirements for the food industry to uphold, retailers are under a lot of pressure to meet these standards. Food retailers hold a unique position in this global food problem because they have considerable market power to make a change. With a loyal following of customers and a hand in advertising and marketing, there are strategies for retailers to reduce food waste at every level of the food to plate to waste process. But, it seems a lot of the burden of this problem falls on not you, the consumer, but your supermarket. They’re the ones producing all the food, and you’re only buying it, right? You, as a loyal consumer of Whole Foods products or Wal-Mart or wherever you get your groceries, have a huge amount of influence on the problem. We contribute to the problem when we buy, store, cook and throw away food that was purchased from retail businesses. There are many things an individual can do in to help mitigate the problem, and the potential power of the consumer to change food waste is promising.
Plan trips to the store around meals you are going to make. It is important to know exactly what you need (and what you already have) to avoid throwing excess food away at home. Educate yourself about which retail companies practice sustainable food disposal practices and support them! Do you truly know what type of industry you are supporting where you shop? Ask the employees who work whether they practice sustainable and eco-friendly retail. They will definitely be happy to look into that for you. Create new cooking and new food storage habits, and understand ‘best-by’ labels mean. Not only do “best-by” or “sell-by” labels overcompensate for when food will go bad, they are actually far from going bad! Here is a great article that helps you make the decision to throw away or not to throw away.
Valuing food is more than just making change at an individual level. Spread the word in your own community by campaigning or engaging in dialogue with your local government about current food waste practices. Get educated about food waste and learn how to navigate the issue so you can effectively involve other people. Volunteer with food redistribution and rescue organizations like Feeding America, Ample Harvest, Food Recovery Network and Urban Gleaners.
As an employee at Whole Foods, I have seen an huge amount of unnecessary waste. I also know what customers buy, what their standards are and why they choose certain products over others. A tiny crack in an egg, in a carton of a dozen, can cause a ruckus. An apple that falls on the ground is immediately lossed. Produce is lossed, and despite efforts to stop this produce from making it to the landfill, so much is thrown away. That’s why if YOU see something, DO something:
- Buy “ugly” fruit. Don’t buy into the aesthetic standard.
- Make SOUP. Use vegetables and meat that could go bad soon and throw them in a pot.
- Eat less prepared food! Prepare your own food!
- Freeze that gross looking banana. It could make a pretty good smoothie in the future.
- Plant a garden and harvest your own veggies and fruits.
- Compost, compost, compost.
- Choose to shop at stores that focus on food waste reduction or composting.
- Lobby for laws that allow for the donation of excess food.
- Learn the difference between “sell-by”, “use-by”, “best-by” and expiration dates.
- Control your portion sizes- in the home and at restaurants! You have the autonomy to reduce the amount of food your waste simply by using your best judgement and voice. You can also take leftovers home and use them!
Many people do not have access to information about food waste and are not educated enough to make sustainable choices. Thus, there is more of an inequity issue when it comes to education. By campaigning and getting people involved, it is possible to empower people to make a change. But, the solution is not equitable if it is not available to everyone. Educate yourself, and others, and your local government. Sharing the information you know is crucial to bringing together community and breaking down the barriers of inequity. Use social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and share what you have done and what others can do. Also, use those staggering statistics I mentioned at the beginning of the post! Influence your local government, and that could potentially bring about change on a national level.
Our sustainability definition requires certain initiatives to “meet the social and economic needs of the present and the future without exceeding planetary boundaries”. Additionally, these solutions do encourage re-use and reduction of waste, while also encouraging biodiversity and ultimately, mitigating climate change. Because these individual actions require changes in behavior that could combat the food waste issue, not only is climate change mitigated, but issues such as hunger and the overall human health could be helped. Changing the behavior of the consumer and the retailer will reduce food waste and spread the knowledge needed to create sustainable efforts. In essence, money, resources and energy will be saved in the future.
Resources to further your involvement in the food waste problem:
- The EPA
- The FAO
- The NRDC
- Blogs and Websites- I Value Food, Cafeteria Culture, Going Zero Waste