Food waste. You might have seen it grace headlines recently, but our Western Sydney chapter co-leader Megan Hounslow did a little digging (including in her own bin) to look at why we really should give a toss. This post originally appeared on her blog, The Intertwined Foodie.
Now let’s clarify from the get-go that there are two distinctive reasons why food that is intended for consumption is never consumed. Food Loss is where food never even reaches us, due to things like pests and diseases on farm, or spoilage on the way to us consumers. Food Waste is more superficial, based often upon appearance or lack of proper storage and organisation. It’s when food that is or once was perfectly edible meets the dump, before it needs to.
Why does food waste matter?
Collectively, food loss and waste is responsible for a third of all food we produce never being eaten! That effectively means that a third of all farms and farmers across the world used precious resources such as water, nutrients and energy, for nothing. Harsh words, but it’s hard to argue with the facts. Once food ends up at the dump, it also releases methane, which is even worse for climate change than carbon dioxide.
Plus, your parents really were right when she said “think of all the hungry people out there” when you pushed your dinner around on your plate (although now we know they probs should have served you less). All in all, a pretty crappy situation.
Ok, who’s getting wasted? Erm…turns out us
And guess who the biggest food wasters are? Surprise surprise, it’s industrialised nations. In Australia, we throw away around 20% of our food, which translates to over a grand a year – we don’t even want to know how many coffees this could have translated to. The worst bit? Young people aged 18-24 are one of the most wasteful groups (gulp).
You might be screwing your face up in indignation at that figure right now, thinking something along the lines of ‘Oh I surely can’t waste that much!’. I challenge you to go right now and rummage through your bin (yes!). It’s actually quite interesting/surprising/stinky/shocking at the amount of food that we throw into our bins everyday. In my own bin, which I gingerly pawed through, I found mostly food packaging, along with the remaining quarter can of baked beans, a small amount of fetta, and some oily-tuna dregs. To be fair though, we compost a lot of our food scraps, I’ve been a food waste nazi for some time, and I have a teenage brother. So not much is wasted in this household.
So how do we manage to rack up so much food waste?
Studies have shown that often because of the abundance and availability of food, coupled with decreasing prices and a general lack of knowledge, food waste has become ‘normalised’. In the household setting, food comprises 40% of the average Australian household’s bin. Often food is wasted because we just don’t know what to do with it. Bought on a whim (‘it was on special!’), we only used part of it, so it sits in our fridge/pantry, waiting for us to eat it, as it slowly wilts or succumbs to the hairy scourge of mould.
The story of the baked beans that ended up my bin started like this: my dad had a little for lunch one day. He and mum used up a bit more of it the day after. But then the last little bit got shoved back into the fridge and forgotten about, before it was ‘found’ a week later and with a whiff from mum was swiftly thrown into the bin. It probably wasn’t safe anymore to eat, but it could have been if it was frozen or repurposed, before it got gory.
Other reasons why we waste food according to Foodwise is because we buy and make too much, don’t check the fridge/pantry before going shopping, and misread the use-by date.
Of course though, there is also larger institutional food waste that occurs here in Australia and in other industrialised nations. Produce is often rejected due to its looks, whether that be a slight blemish on the skin, or perhaps it’s not quite the right shape. Conformity dictates what farmers can sell, so anything that doesn’t meet market standards is rejected, often not even getting onto shelves, usually ending up as landfill and producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The sad thing is, looks have nothing to do with flavour or nutritional value, and in fact some of the ugliest fruit can be in fact the tastiest!
What are we all doing about it?
This superficial food waste is easily avoidable, and slowly supermarkets have begun changing their approach to ‘wonky fruit and veg’. Spearheaded by campaigns in France and by groups such as Youth Food Movement here in Australia, wonky produce has made its way onto our shelves and into the spotlight. From Harris Farm Markets ‘Imperfect picks’ range to Woolworths ‘Odd bunch’ range, paths are being forged to reduce institutional food waste. In fact Woolworths and Coles partnered with food rescue groups OzHarvest and Second Bite in their aim to eliminate food sent to landfill by 2020.
But what can you do about food waste in your own house? Check out our SpoonLed series!
Top image credit: Megan Hounslow