June 5th is World Environment Day, and this year the theme is food waste: Think.Eat.Save. Check out this series I wrote for UNEP’s Blogging Competition.
Tristram Stuart is an activist on global food systems, an author of the book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, and a founder of the Feeding the 5000, an awareness-raising campaign which organizes free public lunches from discarded foods.
He did a talk on TED on the subject of food waste and the global food supply systems. Here are the most fascinating bits if you don’t have time to hear the full talk, otherwise head here.
The following are direct quotes from his presentation:
Most of the food that we throw away is, in fact, fit for human consumption, and that’s only scratching the surface because right the way up the food supply chain, in supermarkets, greengrocers, bakers, in our homes, in factories and farms, we are hemorrhaging out food.
Some supermarkets don’t even want to talk about how much food they are wasting – they lock bins full of food and truck them off to landfill sites.
Freeganism is an exhibition of the injustice of food waste, and the provision of the solution to food waste, which is simply to sit down and eat food, rather than throwing it away.
Food waste is a problem: not rotten stuff, not stuff beyond the pale, but good, fresh, edible food that is being wasted on a colossal scale.
There is no direct data on food waste. It is estimated by taking in the food supply of every single country and comparing it to what is actually likely to be being consumed, based on diet intake surveys, and levels of obesity.
As a country gets richer, it invests more and more in getting more and more surplus into its shops and restaurants. Most European and North American countries grow and produce twice as much food for nutritional requirements of their populations, or twice as much actually required to feed their populations.
If you also include the food that people feed to livestock, the maize, the soy, the wheat, that humans could eat but choose to fatten livestock instead to produce increasing amounts of meat and dairy products, what you find is that most rich countries have between three and four times the amount of food that their population needs to feed itself.
A country like America has four times the amount of food that it needs.
There is no need to increase global food production to feed the population increase or the poverty-stricken countries, as we have an enormous buffer in rich countries between ourselves and hunger: agricultural surpluses. We simply need to waste less.
But now we are reaching the ecological limits that our planet can bear, and when we chop down forests to grow more and more food, when we extract water from depleting water reserves, when we emit fossil fuel emissions in the quest to grow more and more food, and then we throw away so much of it, we have to think about what we can start saving.
Of the total global food production 11% is lost before it even leaves the farm due to a problem primarily associated with developing work agriculture, a lack of infrastructure, refrigeration, pasteurization and storage.
33% of the total global food production is fed to the livestock (the maize, the wheat and the soy), but 2/3 of that turns into faeces and heat, while only 1/3 becomes meat and dairy products.
22% of the total global food production is thrown away directly into supermarket, restaurant and household bins – this is what most of us think of when we think of food waste
The remaining 44% of the total global food production is what we actually feed on.
That is not a superlatively efficient use of global resources, especially when you think of the billion hungry people that exist already in the world.
A very evident abundance of waste was actually the tip of the iceberg. When you start going up the supply chain, you find where the real food waste is happening on a gargantuan scale.
In least developed countries, people are going hungry as a result of a squeeze on global food supplies. We contribute to that squeeze by wasting food. We take food off the market shelves that hungry people depend on.
Farmers throw away sometimes a third or even more of their harvest because of cosmetic standards and supermarket specifications. All being discarded, perfectly edible, because they’re the wrong shape or size.
We, the people, do have the power to stop this tragic waste of resources if we regard it as socially unacceptable to waste food on a colossal scale, if we make noise about it, tell corporations about it, tell governments we want to see an end to food waste, we do have the power to bring about that change.
At the moment, Europe depends on importing millions of tons of soy from South America, where its production contributes to global warming, to deforestation, to biodiversity loss, to feed livestock here in Europe. At the same time we throw away millions of tons of food waste which we could and should be feeding them. If we did that, and fed it to pigs, we would save that amount of carbon.
For the sake of the planet we live on, for the sake of our children, for the sake of all the other organisms that share our planet with us, we are a terrestrial animal, and we depend on our land for food.
At the moment, we are trashing our land to grow food that no one eats.
Stop wasting food.