When I was a child, my parents use to always tell me: “Finish your food, because there are other children starving in the world”, and my thought always was: “Please, if you can transport this plate to wherever it is needed, by my guest”. Not throwing food away has been feed into our minds forever. The reason for it, I believe, has mainly been because our parents or grandparents lived through a period where food was scarce and thus appreciate the value of it; and even seeing something perfectly good going to waste is ethically hurtful. It later got into fashion seeing the starving children in a nutritional crisis and thinking “and meanwhile here, we are throwing our food”.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should freely throw food away, it is only that I believe we should re-think the real causes for throwing food away, what it implies and what we can do about it.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that in 2011, one-third of food was not consumed, that means 1.3 billion tons of food were wasted. Rich countries alone, threw away half of what was available. The same report states that what was wasted in Europe and North America, was the equivalent of what was produced in Sub-Saharan Africa, literally comparing apples with pears.
These figures are, of course, alarming and terrible, but since when has there been food waste? Well, since food existed really. When we were hunters and gatherers, food fell from the tree and wasn’t consumed. When we started to settle, domesticate crops and produce, farmer A found that he was unable to send his production to the market and the food was wasted. Or it reached the market and it wasn’t sold. Or a family had too much stored, didn’t manage to consume it all, and threw it. So there, food waste has happened always. We ignore to what volume or proportion, but it was there.
So firstly, let us relax over food being wasted, agriculture is an uncertain business, production varies and waste occurs.
What the real concern lies is on the increasing disregard for food in rich countries or by rich people everywhere. Why?
– People overbuy. With excess income, people at the store don’t have to make ends meet, and buy more with the eye than the pocket. Then foods gets spoiled and thrown away. Totally psychological, but who put this in our minds?
– “Best-by” and “use-by” dates: People are confused over these dates, and disregard perfectly good food. Moreover stores remove foods when they are still good, which also causes waste. This is done by the push of food producers (agribusiness) to encourage people buying more than they need and thus the first earning more income.
– Modern agricultural techniques: These have grave ecological impacts on the planet in terms of deforestation, water use and land contamination. Wasting food means that part of this ecological impact has been done for no reason. But perhaps our focus should be on the type of industry itself more than the waste it produces. Modern agricultural techniques that have an aggressive strategy on the resources, have only provoked five things:
– Reinforced the rural to urban migration, by further mechanising production and ruining small farmers;
– Increased the yield at the expense of the environment, as we have mentioned above;
– Helped the massive population growth;
– Made disappear local seeds, reduced variety and has homogenized what we eat, and thus we have lost our heritage; and
– Made a few people (agribusiness) very rich and made the rest of us dependant on them.
So where do the benefits of this industry go to? To the few.
Going back to food waste. All these cause have to be dealt with one-by-one, but throwing this into food deprived countries is more harmful than helpful. Firstly, the same is not eaten in every country. Secondly, dumping free/cheap food into these countries can only destroy the remaining local agricultural production in favour of the large agribusinesses. Thirdly, these countries more often than not have enough production to feed themselves. The “starving child” image is basically being used by the agribusiness to make more money: if people are starving we need to produce more, so lets produce more, lets develop transgenic foods, etc… Why is it that in cocoa producing countries you can only find Nestle chocolate? Or in coffee producing countries only Nestle coffee? Please look at the push of this company for powder baby milk in Africa that led to thousands of child deaths.
If we want to solve the food problems we see on TV, let us solve the problem of foreign induced conflicts to obtain natural resources and foreign purchase of land to feed the rich world.
So instead of feeling guilty of starving people let us, buy according to our needs and focus on local small-scale productions. And as the poster on this post says, transform the food that is going to waste into something durable (fruit=jam, veggies=soup, as examples). I can assure you that if we all did all this, we wouldn’t waste much food but also we wouldn’t see any starving children on TV.