Food for Thought – Let’s Talk Global Food Waste

We all know what it’s like to have had a crazy week at work, impromptu office drinks, catch up with friends, the evening gym class that meant you ate out instead of cooking what was in the fridge. Often, the accumulation of our hectic lifestyles can mean we find ourselves peeking into the contents of our fridge shelves on a Sunday night, slightly grimaced and finding food that is a little furry, mushy or an obscure shade of green which renders it inedible and we chuck it out.

I recently listened to Deliciously Ella’s brilliant podcast on food waste and complimented by my studies on the rising levels of inequality not only across the globe but in the UK’s cities with rising levels of homelessness and poverty; I’d thought I would share a brief post on food waste, its current trajectory and how we can alter our behaviour to mitigate it’s current levels and encourage a zero waste ethos!

These facts provided by the podcast, Olio – an innovative inspirational food sharing app, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN are jaw dropping, fall off your chair worthy. They make you want to hang on to your mouldy carrots and freeze every single slice of bread you’ve ever bought but brace yourselves here we go:

  • Over 1/3 of all food produced globally goes to waste
  • The annual value of food wasted globally is $1 trillion and it weights 1.3 billion tonnes
  • The 1 billion hungry and malnourished people across the globe could be fed by a mere quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe
  • An area larger than China is used to grow food that is never eaten
  • 25% of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten (With estimates that by 2030, 47% of the world’s population is predicted to face severe water shortages this is something we can’t afford to sustain!)
  • If food waste were a country it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA
  • In developed countries such as the UK, over half of all our food waste takes place in the home (this includes 25 million slices of bread per day, 6 million potatoes, 1.4 million bananas). To contextualise, the UK has an average of 27 million households and that means just 1 slice of bread per day per household but if everyone does this the impact is monstrous.
  • Food waste at retail store level only accounts for 2% of total food waste
  • UK home food waste amounts to approximately £700 per year for the average family (hello that is a LOT of extra gin and tonics)
  • The expected global population increase to approximately 10 billion by 2050 requires 60-70% increase in global food production (which our planet does not have the capacity to do)– this could be mitigated by us stopping throwing our food away
  • £3 billion worth of edible food in the UK is wasted by the hospitality and food service sector

Whilst currently at abominable levels, food waste, is not a phenomena that needs to get worse before it can get better. An issue with food going to landfill is that it releases higher levels of methane, which is a far more radioactive greenhouse gas than say, CO2, thus excessively contributing to the warming of our planet! At a humanitarian level, there’s a degree of criminality in wasting all of this food when 836 million people live in poverty and over 100 million children in developing countries are underweight. The UN’s second Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger urges us to address us how we grow, share and consume our food and is profoundly important in my eyes. This runs in tandem with the unequal distribution of resources that has rendered nearly 2 billion of our planet’s population overweight or obese.

Acknowledging the earth’s resources are not limitless and the severity of the issue at hand now in 2018, whilst we still have time to right our wrongs and eliminate behaviours contributing to the scale of the problem, is my ‘the cup is half full’ positive outlook on this.

UK Supermarkets are actively contributing to this. For example, in 2011 Sainsbury’s Zero food waste to landfill policy has seen that instead of ending up in a landfill excess food is utilised to create energy via anaerobic digestion. They have also introduced customer initiatives such as “Love your left overs’. We have seen from many grocers including Lidl, Morrisons and Asda’s introduction of the Wonky vegetable selection boxes for consumers less prejudice towards a disfigured courgette or broccoli. Most recently, this month, Tesco announced it will remove ‘Best before’ dates from 116 lines of fruit and vegetables in order to prevent items being disposed of whilst still edible. This follows their investigation which found that 69% of shoppers believed scrapping ‘Best before’ dates was a good idea and over half of this sample believed that removing these dates made a tangible difference in keeping perfectly adequate food for longer.

Incorporating even the most incremental of adjustments to our everyday behaviour can have such a long lasting positive impact to the sustainability of our planet, the food industry and the natural resources to grow produce!

With the aforementioned facts in mind and need to address food waste in the home as a priority, here are some easy tips and tricks to eliminate your food waste and to share (the list really is infinite!):

  • The freezer is your best friend! Bananas browning? Freeze them for smoothies (applies to all fruit). Vegetables going? Make them into a batch soup or curry and freeze for easy mid-week meals! Not going to eat your whole loaf of bread/packet of bagels? Cut off half and freeze the rest!
  • Innovate and become a leftover master chef, bake with your fruits, make a pie, a soup, a stew, stuff it into your salad for work, blend it into a sauce – the limit does not exist! (This includes pickling, preserving, fermenting). Innovations are also conducive to make-shift beauty products, think avocado, honey and yogurt for natural face masks.
  • Plan your food shopping and meals for the week, it’s likely to reduce the hangry impulse buys in Sainsburys post-work!
  • Download food sharing apps such as Karma or Olio, an inspirational and quite frankly incredible technology tool.  Going on holiday for two weeks and have loads of extra but perfectly fine produce? Upload it onto the app and share and it may just find itself a new home that isn’t the rubbish bin! This also donates to incredible charities like FoodCycle that collect surplus food and turns it into community meals. This is having a tangible impact on our society, in 2017 alone they saved nearly 100 tonnes of food waste by serving a record of over 67,000 meals to FoodCycle guests. You can also take a look at Too Good To Go which has a mission to rescue delicious food at great prices from your favourite local restaurants/cafes; think sushi and salad boxes for a fraction of the cost all in the name of saving unneccsary waste!
  • Store your food in the correct way including containers and zip lock bags to pro long their shelf life. This is also applicable to fresh produce which you can separate as some items contain something called ‘ethylene gas’ which promotes fast ripening so avoid putting these with other items. High ethylene produce include bananas, avocadoes, tomatoes, peaches and pears.
  • Invest in a compost bin to contribute to your garden to cultivate whatever flora and fauna may be growing in your back garden!
  • If you’re full to the brim at a delicious restaurant, don’t feel too proud to ask to take it away and syphon it into the freezer/give it to someone who appears like they are in need of a hot meal.

I’ll leave you with some light hearted content from comedian John Oliver on the topic of Food Waste:

Campaigner and author Tristan Stewart has also published an informative book called ‘Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’ should you wish to avail yourself upon the intricacies of this topic further.

I have absolute faith our immediate uptake of these little habits can amount to huge improvements.

Love A. X


6 thoughts on “Food for Thought – Let’s Talk Global Food Waste

  1. So much of this behaviour has been learnt from parents and normalised in society. I know that humans have made vast strides in some areas, but in others we need to look back into the past and see ways of living that were much more sustainable. Personally I’ve learnt a lot of the skills you’ve talked about here from my grandparents and elder family members. For them, living on post war rations, throwing food away was a cardinal sin.

    I feel that culinary skills have also decreased considerably over the past 50 years. People simply don’t have the skills and knowledge of how to best make use of ingredients. The availability of pre-made and vacuum packaged foods does not encourage anyone to learn either. Our society is so obsessed by immediacy and consumerism that we are taught the best solution is to bin and buy if something is anything other than perfect. At the same time the blame can’t be put squarely at the feet of the individual. We work longer hours now than in the past and financial/time pressures do often mean it isn’t possible to invest the time and effort into learning cooking skills.

    I remember reading an article about the only country in the world where McDonalds failed. Bolivia I think it was. Apparently in the South American country food preparation is seen as very important, partly to make sure of the quality of the meal, but also because of the social nature of the venture. I wonder if that country also has appreciably lower levels of food waste and/or better cooking skills?

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