|Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash|
Written by Eryn Austin-Bergen
Food Waste Hurts the Hungry
Did you know that more than 800 million people in the world don’t get enough to eat each day? That’s a shocking number. What’s even more shocking is that the world actually produces enough food to nourish each and every one of those children, women, and men.
In fact, globally, we humans grow—and throw away—enough extra food to feed two billion people—more than twice the number of those families going without meals.
One-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year, worth approximately $1 trillion USD.
Obviously, global hunger is not about a lack of food! The earth is a good and generous home. But in many developing countries, a significant amount of food—up to 40 per cent!—is lost at harvest time. Farmers don’t have waterproof or pest-proof storage facilities so hungry vermin and mold steal their crops. Many farmers don’t have access to sufficient markets and are unable to sell their decaying crops, even though so many in their countries are hungry.
|FH Canada is helping smallholder farmers like Maria harvest, store, sell, and cook their produce with less waste and more nutritional benefit.|
In wealthy nations, more than 40 per cent of food waste actually happens at the consumer level, either in retail or in the kitchen. Grocery stores mishandle produce or fail to keep cold foods chilled. We buy and prepare foods that go uneaten, or lose our leftovers in the back of the fridge or cupboard, then throw them away.
If wasted food were a country, it would be the third-largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, after the USA and China.
Do we waste food in Canada?
In Canada, 58 per cent—that is over half—of all the food we produce is lost or wasted.
In just one category of that food waste—fruits and vegetables—an estimated 13 per cent of what’s grown either goes unharvested or is discarded after harvest. What happens to this uneaten food? It gets turned back into the soil, composted, or turned into animal feed. Why won't these fruits and veggies make it to our grocery stores? Here’s three of the top reasons recently identified by the Government of Canada (you can see the full list here—it will shock you!):
Inadequate demand forecasting, i.e. Farmers didn’t have enough information to know how much of their crop consumers wanted.
Insufficient number of employees to harvest and handle produce, i.e. Not very many people want to be farm labourers—it’s seasonal, physically strenuous, and doesn’t pay a lot.
Economics of market price versus cost to harvest, i.e. It was cheaper to let the crop rot in the field than to harvest it.
Another reason so much fresh produce is lost in Canada is “Culling to meet quality and cosmetic standards for produce.” In other words, we consumers aren’t willing to buy ugly food! We put back twisted carrots, gnarly bell peppers, and gently bruised apples. We want all our oranges to be the same size and our tomatoes to be the same colour. So, grocery stores reject every “imperfect” fruit or veggie before it even gets to the shelf for us to judge.
All of these are tragic reasons for edible, life-giving food to be lost. Why tragic? Because they really are avoidable. In fact, the government estimates that one third of all food waste (not just fruits and veggies) could be rescued. Thankfully, there are a lot of initiatives in Canada to rescue food from rot and get it into the kitchens of the hungry both here at home, and abroad.
One such organization is the Fraser Valley Gleaners, who FH Canada has gratefully partnered with for many years. They receive free, excess produce from local (and some national) growers. Their army of volunteers then washes, chops, dries, and combines the rejected produce into dehydrated soup mix. This nutrient-dense soup mix is distributed by partners like FH Canada all over the world to families struggling against hunger. Families who are living in refugee camps, riding out droughts, transitioning to sustainable livelihoods, or simply struggling to get by.
But harvest isn’t the only place where we Canadians lose food. This year (2022), the National Zero Waste Council conducted research on household waste in Canada and discovered that 63 per cent of food Canadians throw away could have been eaten. In whole numbers, that means that by the end of one year, Canadians will have tossed a total of 2.3 million tonnes of edible food. The average household is responsible for 140 kgs of that total. To put those numbers on the table, so to speak, every day in Canada, we throw in the garbage 650,000 loaves of bread, 1.3 million apples, and 1 million cups of milk.
Not only does this have environmental, nutritional, and social impacts, it also costs each family more than $1,300 each year! How many times have you groaned as you pulled your credit card out at the grocery till, and on the same day pulled mushy lettuce and moldy cheese from the back of the fridge? We don’t always make the connection between our grocery bills and our food waste.
Back to the beginning…
There are over 800 million hungry people in the world. The earth produces enough food for all of us to eat. Collectively, we waste enough food to feed more than double the number of hungry people.
What are we doing wrong?
We know from the news that there are big access barriers to food, barriers which seem beyond the control of individuals like us. Conflict and lack of infrastructure prevents food from being transported to those who need to buy it. Climate change and extractive farming practices cause a loss of food in the field. Inadequate storage and transportation cause post-harvest losses, in both industrialized and developing countries. Fluctuations in local and global markets drive up food prices so that lower-income homes can’t afford the basic necessities. The list goes on, and becomes ever increasingly complex as we tease apart the interconnected global food system.
And, at home, we forget how precious food is. We forget it is a gift to be cherished, honoured, and shared—by eating it, and not throwing it away.
Our choices at the till and at the table impact the quantity and types of food grocery stores order. Which, in turn, impacts what and how much farmers grow and manufacturers produce. Which, of course, impacts the natural resources used up to cultivate and process our food.
By making even a few, simple changes, we can begin to turn the tide on local and global hunger. We can be a little more mindful to buy local and buy in-season so that less food is lost in harvest, storage, handling, and transportation. We can be more mindful to choose fresh instead of processed food to cut down on natural resource consumption. We can be more mindful of portion control when cooking, of the leftovers we pop in the fridge, of the apples we pile into the fruit bowl.
And with that $1,300 we save each year from not throwing away food we could have eaten, we can help those who can’t wait for the global food system to be fixed. We can share our table with the hungry, so to speak.
You can give to Feeding Families and help families around the world overcome hunger and grow sustainable futures for themselves and their children!