Food is political. Food is a human right. People are full. People are hungry. Food is a fight. Urbanization and increased leisure time to entertain ourselves has created a disconnection from the production of food.
We watch Big Bang Theory reruns in place of our former hunter-gatherer lives, trying to coax the land to give us enough food to last us through winter. This needs to be bridged. Waste diversion only provides a bandage for what should not have been wasted in the first place.
Even mathematically understanding the nature of food waste does not provide us with the answers as to why so much of it is wasted. While at the same time so many seem to be starving not having adequate access to it. There is, of course, no shortage of food, just inadequate distribution systems. This is the underpinning of much greater social issues.
Of course, there is no linear relationship between avoiding food waste at home and feeding someone that is hungry, but, there is a compelling argument that there is enough food to feed everyone. Somehow there must be a way — as part of the value proposition to reduce food waste — that we work to match up people with food. This is not a romantic or nostalgic notion, but an area of real potential progress.
There are efforts afoot
Metro Vancouver launched a program called “Love Food Hate Waste” with a goal to reduce avoidable food and liquid waste by 10 per cent by 2018. They have proactively banned food waste from their landfills.
Through data collected over the course of one week, Vancouver tracked the food waste habits (how much and where did it go) of 500 households. The research showed that of the 190,000 tonnes per year of food waste generated, 100,000 tonnes per year of this waste was avoidable (i.e. could have been eaten).
This wasted food is costing Metro Vancouver households about $700/year, the study found. About 40 per cent of this food waste consists of vegetables and leftovers. The key reasons given for disposing avoidable food include over-purchasing (resulting in spoilage), overcooking, and over-serving.
Many people appear to be unaware of the amount of food waste they generate, which is an important first step. You can’t change behavior if you are not self-aware. The better news is that overall about 55% of this food is diverted through the green bin, backyard composting or animals feed.
Love Food Hate Waste campaigns are popping up all over the world. In addition to creating accessible awareness about the problem, the program tries to establish a value proposition that reducing food waste will leave you with money to buy higher quality ingredients.
While I think this program is fantastic, I am left with the lingering notion that we, as a society, are still just scratching at the symptoms of the food waste problem, not bothering to try and figure out the overarching root cause in terms of overall food distribution.
I think that efforts to reduce food waste have a very real opportunity to dig a bit deeper and connect both sides of this loop: To move beyond the symptoms and cure the disease.