New report on global food waste
The press was abuzz with a new report (report downloadable here) that stated that over half the food produced in the world is wasted.
This was not a surprise as there has been increased focus on food waste over the past few years. Tristram Stuart’s excellent book, Waste, was my first entry point into this discussion. Here Stuart’s TED talk here.
There have been many info graphic representing food waste, but usually from a US or UK perspective, as the image below illustrates:
What is nice about the new report is that it focuses on “Fully developed, mature, post-industrial societies, such as those in Europe, characterised by stable or declining populations which are increasing in age.
• Late-stage developing nations that are currently industrialising rapidly, for example China, which will experience decelerating rates of population growth, coupled with increasing affluence and age profile.
• Newly developing countries that are beginning to industrialise, primarily in Africa, with high to very high population growth rates (typically doubling or tripling their populations by 2050), and characterised by a predominantly young age profile.” and recognises the different waste responses necessary in each region.
Its recommendations are as follows:
“1. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) works with the international engineering community to ensure governments of developed nations put in place programmes that transfer engineering knowledge, design know-how,
and suitable technology to newly developing countries. This will help improve produce handling in the harvest, and immediate post- harvest stages of food production.
2. Governments of rapidly developing countries incorporate waste minimisation thinking
into the transport infrastructure and storage facilities currently being planned, engineered and built.
3. Governments in developed nations devise and implement policy that changes consumer expectations. These should discourage retailers from wasteful practices that lead to the rejection of food on the basis of cosmetic characteristics, and losses in the home due to excessive purchasing by consumers.”
While these are good recommendations, a Masters student of mine looking at the possibility of diverting supermarket waste in South Africa found that institutional cultures and structures also need considerable focus and technical solutions are only as good as the systems in which they operate.
Even longer lasting bread?
I saw this story on the BBC recently.
“An American company has developed a technique that it says can make bread stay mould-free for 60 days.
The bread is zapped in a sophisticated microwave array which kills the spores that cause the problem.
The company claims it could significantly reduce the amount of wasted bread - in the UK alone, almost a third of loaves purchased.
The technique can also be used with a wide range of foods including fresh turkey and many fruits and vegetables.” (full article here)
So we really, really need even longer lasting bread? When I was the US last year I bought a loaf and it kept fresh the whole ten days I was there. That is just not right. I made a ciabatta on Saturday morning, by Sunday morning the tiny bit left over was rock hard.
Bread is one of the most wasted foods and we need to find ways to waste less, but surely the answer is more in changing how we buy and engage with food rather than adding more and more processes that remove the last vestiges of bread’s breadiness?
As Freegan, Mark Boyle puts it:
““If you make something yourself, you’ve spent half an hour kneading the bread and then baking it, you don’t waste that bread because you know how much energy you’ve put into it,” he says.
“But if you can pick up a loaf of bread for about 20p at the end of a day from a supermarket… then you don’t have the same respect for what you’re consuming.” (link)
Maybe look here
Feeding the 5000
The Guardian had a great article over the weekend
“Elona Grondona, a school nurse, came to Trafalgar Square in Londonfor one reason – to eat curry. But this was no ordinary meal, Friday’s lunch was served as part of the Feeding the 5,000 initiative, to encourage households and business to reduce food waste.
The Feeding the 5000 team – a coalition of Fareshare, FoodCycle, Love Food Hate Waste and Friends of the Earth, led by food waste expert Tristram Stuart– treated Grondona and 4,999 others to a free meal using food that would otherwise have been wasted, such as cosmetically imperfect fresh fruit and vegetables – in short, wonky carrots. The misshapen ingredients were not salvaged from nearby skips but supplied directly by farmers who sell their goods to supermarkets. “The supermarkets have strict cosmetic standards, so if a carrot is too long or slightly bent, it either goes in the bin or is left out in the field and simply ploughed back into the ground,” Stuart says. “Today, that’s not happened and all that food is here to be eaten” (full article here)
The Feeding the 5000 team – a coalition of Fareshare, FoodCycle, Love Food Hate Waste and Friends of the Earth, led by food waste expert Tristram Stuart– treated Grondona and 4,999 others to a free meal using food that would otherwise have been wasted, such as cosmetically imperfect fresh fruit and vegetables – in short, wonky carrots.
The misshapen ingredients were not salvaged from nearby skips but supplied directly by farmers who sell their goods to supermarkets. “The supermarkets have strict cosmetic standards, so if a carrot is too long or slightly bent, it either goes in the bin or is left out in the field and simply ploughed back into the ground,” Stuart says. “Today, that’s not happened and all that food is here to be eaten” (full article here)
End of ‘sell by’ dates - UK
The UK government has announced that “sell-by” dates are going to be removed from packages, leaving only the “use-by” or “best before” date.
The hope is that this will reduce the amount of food waste in the country. It is argued that the multiple dates are confusing to customers and therefore encourages waste. What I think may be more important here is that it may reduce waste from supermarkets and other retailers - no longer will they have to clear their shelves of perfectly edible foods.
Eat your waste
This article from the New York Times looks at uses for parts of fresh produce that are usually thrown away these days.
“If home cooks reconsidered what should go into the pot, and what into the trash, what would they find? What new flavors might emerge, what old techniques? Pre-industrial cooks, for whom thrift was a necessity as well as a virtue, once knew many ways to put the entire garden to work. Fried green tomatoes and pickled watermelon rind are examples of dishes that preserved a bumper crop before rot set in.
“Some people these days are so unfamiliar with vegetables in their natural state, they don’t even know that a broccoli stalk is just as edible as the florets,” said Julia Wylie, an organic farmer in Watsonville, Calif.” A little later in the article it talks about people who are buying vegetable boxes from CSAs, but find that it is just causing them to waste more. It seems that though buying from these represents an attempt to reconnect to a better way of doing food, we’ve lost vital knowledge along the way. Must confess. I find myself thinking I’m doing enough by throwing the waste onto my compost pile. It probably isn’t good enough - but then I do need a lot of compost for my new raised veggie patch
“Some people these days are so unfamiliar with vegetables in their natural state, they don’t even know that a broccoli stalk is just as edible as the florets,” said Julia Wylie, an organic farmer in Watsonville, Calif.”
A little later in the article it talks about people who are buying vegetable boxes from CSAs, but find that it is just causing them to waste more. It seems that though buying from these represents an attempt to reconnect to a better way of doing food, we’ve lost vital knowledge along the way.
Must confess. I find myself thinking I’m doing enough by throwing the waste onto my compost pile. It probably isn’t good enough - but then I do need a lot of compost for my new raised veggie patch
Food waste and water
From the UK Guardian today”
“As consumers throw millions of tonnes of uneaten food into the bin each year, few give a thought to the hidden cost of such waste – the water that it took to grow the food.
But new research shows that we throw away, on average, twice as much water per year in the form of uneaten food as we use for washing and drinking.
What is worse, increasing amounts of our food comes from countries where water is scarce, meaning the food we discard has a huge hidden impact on the depletion of valuable water resources across the world.
According to the first comprehensive study into the impact of the “embedded water” in the UK’s food waste on world water supplies, more than a 5% of the water used by the UK is thrown away in the form of uneaten food.” (source)
Food production accounts for between 17 and 32 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. About half of all food produced ends up being wasted at some point along the food chains.
While there has been a lot of focus in the press about household waste, and increasingly on supermarket waste, there is a need consider the whole food chain. Depending on the crop type and production system, 15-35% of all food grown goes to waste in before harvest, and another 10-15% during processing, transport and storage (source). In part, this in production loss is the result of the kinds of contracts that farmers have with purchasers, which require over-production to ensure they meet their contractual obligations, and the jettisoning of foods that don’t meet (what are often aesthetic) standards. Shopper psychology drives the over-stocking of supermarket shelves and all manner of factors shape household wastage.
All of which leaves us with a massive waste problem, which is a massive resource loss. In the USA it is estimated that 98% of household food waste ends up in landfill, where there is little or no chance of resource recovery. By contrast, 62% of garden waste is composted (source).
In South Africa we lack adequate systems to reclaim precious resources from domestic and commercial food waste. Linus Opara at Stellenbosch University is leading a team working on postharvest loss technologies. Far more needs to be done here to understand the technologies, economics, biologies, psychologies and geographies that drive food waste and our failure to reclaim resources from waste
Eating landfill food
“Most of the fence-climbers go in under cover of darkness, picking food off the dump. But last night, residents were frightened off when new night guards replaced the day staff, and a random police patrol followed.
“We are dead scared of the security guards, but we have to eat and the food is good,” Nkgqkeni said.
Nkgqkeni, who is nine months pregnant, said she had never been sick from eating food off the dump.
“I get my lamb chops and beef there every day, and I’m healthy. It’s expired meat and other products from Pick n Pay and Checkers. It might have expired but it’s good for us.”
Jacqueline Viljoen, 29, has been living in Skandaalkamp for nine years.
“I get my potatoes, vegetables, meat and butter here - all frozen,” said Viljoen. “Sometimes the meat is off, but we have nothing better to eat.”
Last week, residents told the Cape Argus, a man caught picking food off the dump was so badly beaten by security guards he was rushed to hospital for stitches.
Locals call the practice of picking food off the dump “mining”.
Viljoen said some of the men who worked on the landfill site “mine” for the meat packs themselves and sell them to the poor for R100 a crate. A crate consists of five chicken braai packs, five packs of sausage and meat.” (http://www.iol.co.za:80/news/south-africa/western-cape/residents-eating-expired-meat-1.1050959)
This story raises so many issues, but most pressingly. Why is so much food, particularly from supermarkets, still being sent to landfill? Maya Marshak is currently working on her Masters at UCT looking at supermarket waste strategies. It seems there are so many institutional and regulatory barriers to doing better.
How can the food system be managed better that food waste can either be salvaged for safe consumption through social safety nets or re-used by biodigestion or composting or other? The Food Bank are doing a great job, but clearly there is need for more to be done.
University of Cape Town