Everybody loves food. We cram our fridges with tasty treats. We celebrate and commiserate with indulgent feasts. We trigger global #foodenvy with filtered images of our delicious creations. We also create enough food waste to build a mountain 8,000 feet high and two miles wide – that’s 1.3 billion tonnes, annually.
So, you’re a foodie?
We’ve all overdone it before: guiltily dumped a squishy avocado that never made it to Sunday brunch, or slam-dunked a pair of wrinkled peppers – from a multi-pack you didn’t need – to make room for the next load. Not too bothered? UK households waste 15 million tonnes of edible food every year. That’s the equivalent to a week’s worth of groceries per family each month: £60 in the bin.
Our supermarkets and food suppliers are doing it, too. Under pressure to provide standardised ‘beautiful’ fruit and veg, create space for new deliveries and safeguard their customers against the horror of eating an overly ripe banana, food retailers are ditching more than 400,000 tonnes of edible fruit and veg each year.
The cost of food waste
Perhaps you can do without the luxury of an additional £720 per year and sure, it’s not our fault if the supermarkets are literally spunking the world’s goodness into dirty dumpsters. But the cost of food waste reaches far beyond our own little bubbles.
The 2013 report, ‘Food Wastage Footprint – Impact on Natural Resources’, by the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation helps us to understand the importance of the world’s forgotten foods.
In terms of our climate, it found that the amount of food wasted globally equates to a carbon footprint of 3.3 billion tonnes – only the world’s worst offenders, China and America, contribute more to our global carbon emissions. To eliminate global food wastage would be like cutting out the entire carbon footprint of an industrial nation – wouldn’t that be a coup for climate justice?
In our increasingly urbanised worlds, it’s easy to lose connection with our foods’ origins. This may be surprising considering that by 2007, a whopping 30 per cent of the earth’s surface was used to produce our 1.3 billion tonnes of global food waste. Meat and dairy products took the lion’s share of this surface area – over 75 per cent.
This space is not only wasted but degraded. Worse still, agriculture is the cause of more than half of the threats to our land species. Biodiversity is particularly vulnerable in lush, tropical areas. Meanwhile, our oceans are desperately over-fished as we work our way down through the fish stocks.
Food waste is not faceless…
Then there’s the massive amounts of water required to produce our 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste: 3.6 times the amount of water used by America annually, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. As climate change tightens its grip and water scarcity takes its toll, we’ll need to work harder to get our heads around these figures.
Now, put into the frame the fact that the world needs to produce a staggering 50 per cent more food by 2050 in order to feed its 9 billion people. This really makes me sweat. With food scarcity resulting in higher food prices, families will struggle to afford the bare necessities, let alone their #instafood ‘favourites’.
World hunger, food scarcity and poor management of resources is not new. According to the World Health Organisation, almost 50 per cent of all child deaths are linked to malnutrition. Grandma York definitely had a point when drawing my attention to the sad remnants of food on my childhood plate: ‘Think of all the starving children in Africa!’. The phrase may be outdated, but the sentiment stands. The question is, what can we do?
Image via Flickr Creative Commons
Fighting food waste is easy
In the UK the effort needs to start at home. Spread the weekly shop over a few trips and only buy as you need. Be more conscious of sell-by dates, use common sense when turfing out the ‘inedibles’ and don’t disregard fugly fruits! The good news is UK supermarkets seem to be following in France’s footsteps – France introduced new legislation to prevent supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, instead donating it to charities and food banks. Fantastique, non?
This March, 98 UK retailers, authorities and brands voluntarily signed The Courtauld Committment 2025, which aims to reduce UK food and drink waste by 20 per cent. Dr Richard Swannell, Director of sustainable food systems at the resource efficiency charity WRAP, said “To safeguard UK food we need a step-change to increase sustainable food and drink production and consumption, conserve resources and combat climate change. Courtauld 2025 will do this.’’
Meanwhile, social enterprises like Rejuce in London’s east end are crying out for financial support. Founder, Thomas Fletcher, has saved over 50 tonnes of fruit and veg from the landfill by blending them into delicious juices and selling them at markets and events. Now, he needs funding to secure the technology that will help him boost production and compete with the big-boys.
Fighting food waste means reconnecting with all the goodness we consume – eating for energy, respecting the resources it has taken to create this energy and sharing in its benefits. We all enjoy eating, so instead of being swept along with our mundane and often mindless day-to-day routines, let’s focus on our food. We can blitz that mountain of food waste, we just need to be conscious of it first.
Find out more about Rejuce:
*Featured Image via Flickr Creative Commons (adapted): Alan