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Life with Moxie: Food abundance and waste

We are coming into a time of year when creating and sharing food in abundance is both a privilege and a joy, all part of the seasonal entertainment experience. It is also a time when those who are less fortune are highlighted as opportunities for giving food. There is a third component I see as equally valuable to understand. During a time when several industries are trying to capitalize on finding ways to ensure there is enough food for the world’s exploding population (mainly in the space of GMO’s) the one component that is given far less attention is that of food waste- to the tune of 2.9 trillion pounds, a year.

However there is only a perceived shortage because we are not calculating in the waste. Forty percent of food is thrown away annually in developed countries. The food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people. The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people. The food currently lost in Africa could feed 300 million people. Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.

In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Here in the U.S., we waste 40 percent of our food supply, which is more than 1400 calories of food per person per day, reports astudy by a team of National Institute of Health researchers. The cost of food waste is $136 billion nationally, or about$600per household each year. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2016, consumers threw away 27.5 million tons just from our own personal kitchens, waste from farms was a distant second at 10 million tons while restaurants and grocery stores were 7 and 8 million tons respectively.

Food waste or food loss is food fit for human consumption that is discarded or lost uneaten. The causes of food waste or loss are numerous, and occur at the stages of production, processing, retailing and consumption. Global food loss and waste amounts are between one-third and one-half of all food produced. Loss and wastage occurs at all stages of the food supply chain or value chain. In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production, while in developed countries much food is wasted at the consumption stage.

Food losses and waste amounts to roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries and US $310 billion in developing countries, according to the FAO.

In the U.S., the reasons for the largest percentages of waste are in the areas of appearance (blemished produce), Sell/best buy dates in grocery stores, and thrown away leftovers. Grant Baldwin from the documentary film Just Eat it; A Food Waste Story notes “Sell-by or best-before dates are found on most products but are not an indication of safety but rather help with rotating stock. The date also indicates a time of peak freshness.

“After that it has nothing to do with that it’s unsafe. It’s just not maybe the crispiest potato chip.”

“There’s no regulation that prevents them from selling it after the best-before date because there is no safety concern with that product,” Daniel Miller, executive director of food labeling for the Canada Food Inspection Agency, says in the film.

According to the Independent “compared to the rest of the world, Europe is second only to North America and Oceania when it comes to per capita food losses and waste, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The UK is the most wasteful of the EU’s 27 member states, needlessly throwing away 15.7 million tons per year. An inquiry conducted by the House of Lords last year suggest that the figure of 98 million tons will rise to around 139 million tons by 2020 if no preventative action is taken – raising the prospect of significant costs to the environment and the economy.”

A very interesting article, The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact, discusses how “food waste contributes to excess consumption of freshwater and fossil fuels which, along with methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change. Here, [they] calculate the energy content of nationwide food waste from the difference between the US food supply and the food consumed by the population. The latter was estimated using a validated mathematical model of metabolism relating body weight to the amount of food eaten. [They] found that US per capita food waste has progressively increased by about 50 percent since 1974 reaching more than 1400 calories per person per day or 150 trillion calories per yearFood waste now accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and 300 million barrels of oil per year.”

According to Business Insider “Food waste activist Tristram Stuart has traveled to every continent (except Antarctica) to figure out why the world throws away a third of the food it produces.” Stuart goes on to note that “food waste is a systemic problem. There is waste at every stage of the supply chain and the reasons behind it are complex and interrelated.”

According to Small Footprint Family, “wasting food squanders the time, energy, and resources—both money and oil—used to produce that food. Increasingly, great amounts of fossil fuel are used to fertilize, apply pesticides to, harvest, and process food. Still more gas is spent transporting food from farm to processor, wholesaler to restaurant, store to households, and finally to the landfill.”

After learning that about 40 percent of food is thrown away annually in developed countries, Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer embarked on an experiment. The filmmakers pledged to quit grocery shopping and survive on discarded food for six months. The results are chronicled in their film Just Eat it; A Food Waste Story. It’s a fascinating and shocking journey where filmmakers and food lovers Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer dive into the issue of waste from farm, through retail, all the way to the back of their own fridge. After catching a glimpse of the billions of dollars of good food that is tossed each year in North America, they pledge to quit grocery shopping cold turkey and survive only on foods that would otherwise be thrown away. In a nation where one in 10 people is food insecure, the images they capture of squandered groceries are both shocking and strangely compelling. But as Grant’s addictive personality turns full tilt towards food rescue, the ‘thrill of the find’ has unexpected consequences.

Food activist Tristram Stuart also has a very insightful and engaging conversation on BBC Radiodiscussing how food waste is being put to good use. He’s also written a book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal . Wastetraces the problem around the globe from the top to the bottom of the food production chain. Stuart’s journey takes him from the streets of New York to China, Pakistan and Japan and back to his home in England. Introducing us to foraging pigs, potato farmers and food industry CEOs, Stuart encounters grotesque examples of profligacy, but also inspiring innovations and ways of making the most of what we have. The journey is a personal one, as Stuart is a dedicated freegan, who has chosen to live off of discarded or self-produced food in order to highlight the global food waste scandal. Combining front-line investigation with startling new data, Waste shows how the way we live now has created a global food crisis―and what we can do to fix it.

The most on point among his work is his TED Talk. Tristram Stuart delves into the shocking data of wasted food, calling for a more responsible use of global resources knowing Western countries throw out nearly half of their food, not because it’s inedible — but because it doesn’t look appealing.

With this stunning and nearly overwhelming array of information, there is hope. We can each do our part to make a difference.

As the famous social scientist Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Andrew Opie, the British Retail Consortium’s director of food & sustainability, said: “It is important to continue to focus attention and efforts on where the biggest reductions in food waste can be made – and that is in the supply chain and at home.”

The website The Small Footprint Family offers a powerful shortlist of things to do that can make a significant difference. They include:

-First and probably most effective, Feed People. “After source reduction, feeding hungry people through food recovery or gleaning is the next best way to curb food waste. Food-recovery groups rescue edible but unsellable food from supermarkets, restaurants, and institutional kitchens.” As an example, Bread is top of the list of our most wasted household food items. We waste almost 992,000 tons of bread every year – around 24 million slices every day. In terms of calories, that’s enough to lift over 26 million people out of hunger.

According to Toastale.com “what’s less visible is the bread that’s wasted before we even buy it. A lifecycle analysis by Tesco, the only supermarket that discloses its food waste statistics, found that 34% – 44% of all bread produced in the UK is wasted and that only half of that occurs in our homes. Cereals are lost in the field due to crop damage, cancelled orders or other unforeseen circumstances, and in the factories of food processors during the production of bakery products. Bread is wasted by sandwich makers who discard the heel end of loaves. In 2008, Tristram discovered that a single sandwich manufacturer was wasting 13,000 slices every day because the retail customer required it to remove the crust and first slice from every loaf they used – adding up to 17% of the loaf lost. At the end of the supply chain, retailers dispose of loaves that are damaged or past their sell-by-date, even though they are usually perfectly edible.”

Toastale.com has managed to turn this bread waste issue into a very elegant solution. They are repurposing it into beer. Other startups, the Wall Street Journal notes, like Spoiler Alert, founded by MIT graduates, is working with food manufacturers and distributors to increase donations of unsold inventory. Spoiler Alert was able to coordinate 700,00 pounds of food worth about 1 million dollars just from Sysco, North Americas largest food distributor. Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods has even gotten involved. He’s remained on the board of Whole Foods and has joined up as an investor and board member with another startup in the food waste space, FoodMaven. He notes with Amazons buyout of Whole Foods, partnered with the use of FoodMavens website “its uses the power of markets to actually try and solve the problem.” FoodMaven was named the Exceptional Newcomer for 2017 by the Colorado Restaurant Association.

Of course the most simple and obvious edition of this, that is roughly 25% of food waste in the U.S. – eat your leftovers.

– Feeding animals comes next in the hierarchy, so don’t feel bad about slipping your scraps to Spot. On small farms, hogs, cows, chickens and other livestock were traditionally fed household food waste, and on a larger scale they could be fed commercial food waste today. Many small and mid-size farmers would be thrilled to reduce their feed costs while diverting food from landfills.

– Lastly, At the very least, food should be composted, where its nutrients can replenish the soil. Many individuals, schools, universities, hospitals, and municipalities have been doing so for years. Composting costs roughly the same as regular waste collection and, depending on landfill tipping fees, can be even cheaper.Here’s a list of 100 things you can compost.

It is such a rich, tradition-filled time of year, loaded with the scents and flavors of generations before. So this holiday season, cook to your hearts content, feed and share with those you love and please, celebrate with all you made, down to the very last morsel- because when you know better, you do better.

Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Let me know!

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