Let’s Talk About Food Waste

This post is another one in my sustainability series. If you missed the first one about sustainable farming, you can read it here.

In this post, I provide an overview of food waste and some practical actions we can take to reduce the wastage of food.

Let’s review some statistics

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (aka FAO) of the UN have a whole bunch of statistics on food waste around the world. One of the highlights is that richer countries waste more food compared to developing countries, and this waste amounts to US$ 680 billion. They don’t mention if it’s monthly or annually, but I would assume the latter. Other highlights include tubers being one of the most wasted foods (our precious yam is in this category), and that a third of food produced gets lost or wasted. I don’t understand how food gets lost though.

These statistics can be quite depressing especially when you consider the greenhouse gas emissions and resource use at all stages of food production. For example with plants, there are the planting, harvesting, preparation and consumption stages which will require some mechanised equipment and the use of water, and with animals, there’s a lot of land clearing, water use and methane emissions involved. And then after all that, the food gets wasted.

Furthermore, while engaging with this topic, I have learned that people in developed countries waste more food because they can, as most of the waste happens at the consumer level. On the other hand, one of the reasons people in developing countries waste food is due to a lack of proper preservation equipment and facilities. A specific example of people needlessly wasting food is in the standards to which fruits and vegetables are held to; consumers are quite particular about the way they look and ‘ugly’ products are usually thrown away. However, I would assume that this ‘ugly’ foods problem cuts across different economies. Anyway, the truth is that once these produce are cut up or blended, consumers won’t notice the difference. I also doubt our stomachs tell us that they prefer good looking produce over their less attractive counterparts.

Lest I forget, there’s also that small issue of best before and use-by/sell-by dates. To me, as long as it doesn’t say expiry, the food is still fine. I remember finding it funny when I would buy chicken from the store and it would have a sell-by date. Back home, I’m not sure we take those dates seriously as the food is usually fine after the day passes. Of course, it has to have been stored properly. My thing is if the product still tastes or smells okay, it’s probably okay to consume. Who else feels this way?

What can you do to reduce food waste?

One way could be composting left-over food instead of binning it. This essentially means turning left-over food into fertiliser and could come in handy for those who do not like eating left-over food. However, like recycling, some argue that this should not be the first course of action. The focus, when trying to reduce food waste, should be reducing the amount of food waste one creates in the first place.

Reducing the amount of waste can be done by ensuring one doesn’t buy food that’s not needed, not serving more food than you can finish, storing food items properly and, perhaps the most difficult option, keeping a food waste journal to hold yourself accountable. The latter suggestion will be even more effective if you recorded the price of the wasted food. This article provides more details on these suggestions.

Another way to prevent food from going to waste, as seen here, is by freeze drying. Freezing food is one of the best ways of storing food and keeping it fresh and freeze drying is basically freezing on the industrial level. In the video I’ve linked to, they talk about how grocery stores can freeze dry meat a few days before the sell-by date to ensure that it doesn’t go bad. Meat stored this way could potentially keep for up to 20 years!

This is just a small snapshot of the food waste problem and obviously doesn’t capture the whole picture. What are your thoughts on this issue? Does it make you upset? Are you personally doing anything to prevent food from going to waste? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below and let’s have a conversation! 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Food Waste

  1. Great post there.

    I was recently studying an academic work on the economic and climate change impacts of food waste in the US and you need to see how much is lost in money terms and the greenhouse gas emission equivalent. I think if we can quantify food loss and waste in money terms, people will see that they will save a lot of cash by not wasting food. I also think we can use the statistics of those who are globally food insecure (over 800 million people) to appeal to people to do less of food wasting! Patronising local shops for our food (especially in developing countries) will also help reduce food rot.

    Thank you for putting this up.

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