Hello fellow readers and writers! If you read the first part of Watch What Your Throw, you’ll probably remember that I briefly discussed recycling in Malaysia (the statistics, the current efforts and future plans) and in Melbourne. I also recommended the documentary Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story directed by Grant Baldwin. This post extends on the idea of being conscious of our actions and addresses the other problem that is straining Earth’s environment – food waste.
For those of you who watched the documentary, were you surprised that Baldwin and Rustemeyer find it easy to survive on discarded food? How did the documentary make you feel?
I know that food waste exists but the documentary proved how much I don’t know about the gravity of the issue. The extent supermarkets go to ensure their produce look fresh is just unbelievable. I was frustrated because it seems as if nothing much is being done to stop food waste. My heart was in pieces when I learned that supermarkets throw away an exorbitant amount of edible food weeks before the “best by” date. I was angry that the people of power let this happen for decades. The documentary also got me wondering: Is the issue of food waste getting worse? Is anything being done to alleviate the problem?
Let’s find out, shall we?
To my relief, the situation isn’t as bleak as I thought it would be as various countries have taken an active approach to alleviate the problem of food waste. National Geographic reported that Denmark has reduced the amount of food waste by 25% in five years. Part of the reason why is because supermarkets in Denmark (such as REMA1000, Coop and LIDL) have stopped using quantity discounts to encourage consumers to buy more. As much as we hate to admit it, humans don’t always act rationally and a lot of times we make decisions based on how we feel. When there’s a promotion going on, you feel that you should stock up (without checking what you have at home) because you’re worried that you might miss out. And then you find out you already have a bag of tomatoes and oranges in your fridge. You also begin to realize that you won’t be cooking as much during the week because you’re supposed to attend a wedding dinner and a birthday party. What do you end up with? Fresh food that doesn’t get consumed and you have to throw them out because the quality starts to decay.
Besides Denmark, Indonesia has also taken measures to make a positive contribution to the food waste fight. SEA Makerthon and Smart Living Challenge, for instance, gather young people with different education backgrounds to tackle the issue of food waste. The winner of the SEA Makerthon event, Team Bagi Rasa, made a platform for household consumers to share their leftover food. BagiMak, the team that was awarded first prize in the Smart Living Challenge event, developed an app that allows users to share or donate leftovers to other users. They also have the idea of cooperating with transportation companies to ensure quick and easy food distribution.
Policies and laws play an essential role in reducing food waste and promote a healthy and sustainable approach to food. In Italy, an international agreement on sustainable and equitable urban food systems – Milan Urban Food Policy Pact – was signed by the mayors in 130 cities across the world. A new law was recently approved to make it easier for companies in Italy to donate food, hoping to recover at least 1 million tonnes of food that gets wasted annually. Meanwhile, France recently became the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them to donate to charities and food banks instead. It may seem like an aggressive move, but I think it’s necessary if we want to see changes as soon as possible.
“It is not easy to make the first step,” she adds. “But once you explain the reasons behind policies like these, citizens start to understand the importance of such decisions.” Vice mayor Anna Scavuzzo
Leading organizations are also doing their part to change the inner systems of the food supply chain in order to tackle food waste more effectively. The EU and its member states strive to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to reduce food waste (per capita) at the retail and consumer level in 14 years. This is achieved by improving the use of date marking by actors in the food chain and enhancing its understanding among consumers (i.e. best before labeling). According to World Resources Institute, the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard, launched at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) 2016 Summit in Copenhagen, allows companies and countries to consistently and credibly measure, report on and manage food loss and waste. This could save government and businesses money, protect resources and ensure food is distributed fairly and efficiently.
With technology on everyone’s fingertips, being involved in combating food waste has never been easier. In Denmark, Too Good To Go was created to sell cheap, just before closing bakery and restaurant food to its citizens. Similarly, MyFoody notifies residents in Milan to food in small supermarkets that are either going out of date or the packaging is damaged. So far, MyFoody has 10,000 registered users across the city and it currently collaborates with 23 small supermarkets. Italy hopes to increase that number to 500 across northern Italy by the end of 2017.
As the fight to reduce food waste gain traction, we’re beginning to see supermarkets and grocery stores embrace the idea of selling ugly produce. The Ugly Fruits and Vegetables Campaign organized a Change.org petition to not only urge retailers to sell ugly fruits and vegetables but also convince big corporations such as Whole Foods and Walmart to offer ugly produce all year round. It has been suggested that when big corporations decide to sell ugly produce, smaller retailers will follow suit. This is only true to a certain extent. It may be unprofitable for smaller retailers to sell ugly produce because the population is “trained” to pick fruits and vegetables that look perfect. Hence, when ugly produce is introduced in stores, we may still prefer the perfect looking produce over the odd ones. This distorted thinking, however, can be altered through campaigns, education and parents becoming role models to their children. It takes time to change habits and perception, but it’s definitely not impossible.
“In Denmark, in all aspects of life, people are starting to think about the environment and there’s a growing consciousness about being green. Not wasting food is part of that.” Rene Hoffman
One thing I find interesting is how culture shapes thinking and behaviors toward food waste. When Danes cook, they tend to make smaller portions and they’re good at using up their leftovers. Frugality is another characteristic that causes Danes to leave the least impact when it comes to food waste. In China, it’s a different story. China Daily Asia notes that food waste is common in large restaurants as people meet for business discussions and networking events. Liu Yao, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, investigated food wastage at restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Lhasa (the capital of the Tibet autonomous region) and he found that the more luxurious the restaurant, the more food waste is produced. In the Chinese culture, hosts are required to provide large amounts of food for their guests to show largesse, which inevitably lead to more food being waste at the end of business discussions and networking events. The Chinese government tried to curb the problem by introducing the Clean Your Plate campaign, which encourages people to not order too much and eat everything on the plate. But Liu’s research reveals that it has minimal effect in cities with strong business environment. Perceptions molded by culture can be difficult to change. But I think creating a taboo among the business community may be an effective way to alleviate the issue. This can be done by spreading the idea that food wasted through the act of generosity is not only inconsiderate but the perpetrators are deliberately causing damage to the environment. Obviously, implementing laws and policies, running campaigns and teaching children not to waste food are equally, if not more, effective ways to change habits and perceptions.
Although this post demonstrates that there’s positive change happening, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Food waste shouldn’t be taken lightly and we as consumers should do our best to make a difference and restore the damage we have done to our home. The issue of food waste may not gain as much attention as global warming but it’s happening every single day.
So, are you ready to make a difference? I’ve gathered some links for you and I hope I managed to influence some of you to take action. Read, ponder and share!
- Best before dates are used to protect the reputation of the supermarkets and have very little to do with food safety: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/12/26/167819082/dont-fear-that-expired-food
- Grocery auction? Yes, it exists! http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/08/23/159601015/willing-to-play-the-dating-game-with-your-food-try-a-grocery-auction
- We need to take responsibilities for our actions. Change needs to begin at home: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/11/17/364172105/to-end-food-waste-change-needs-to-begin-at-home
- Why are food tossed before their time? http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/06/16/414667913/landfill-of-lettuce-what-happens-to-salad-past-its-prime
- Sour milk is good for…believe or not – Pancakes!! http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/23/441460163/don-t-toss-that-sour-milk-10-tips-cut-food-waste-in-your-kitchen
- Watch how chefs turn food surplus into something edible: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roNh6Rtryx4