Love Food, Respect Our Food
We love food and we need food. That is a fact of life. Problematic is the amount of food loss and waste that occurs during the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal from the world’s food industries. We need nutrition to survive, but also we all enjoy the experience of everyday and gourmet meals. Food is one of the most important activities in our culture. Conversely, however, there are big consequential issues of food loss and waste. Studies by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations put forward in 2015 indicate that food loss and waste totals roughly 30 percent of all food globally. This amounts to 1.3 billion tons of food loss and waste per year worldwide. The report discloses that approximately 168 million tons of food is wasted in North America annually. In Canada, 13 million tons of food is disposed of each year, approximately 396 kg of food is wasted per person per year. As a result, these discarded foods end up in regional landfills. Wasted food in landfills is a significant source of methane gas – a greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide (Commission for Environmental Cooperation, 2018). It can be said that food waste is much the same as our wasting of other natural resources such as energy, labor costs, and agricultural cropland which all go into the production of food. Food loss and waste unavoidably occur in the food supply chain. The food supply chain consists of several stages: pre-harvest, post-harvest, processing, distribution, retail, food service and consumers. It seems clear that we must find more ways to rescue food and avoid food waste. There are definitely food recovery stages of source reduction that can rescue food before disposal. To understand the problem of food loss and waste, we must look carefully at the consumer stage, the retail stage, and the food recovery stage.
Approximately 168 million tons of food loss and waste are produced in North America each year. More than 50 percent of the food loss and waste is generated at the consumer stage. For instance, 57 million tons out of 126 million tons of food is wasted by consumers in the Unites States; and, 6 million tons out of 13 million tons of edible food are disposed of by consumers in Canada (Commission for Environmental Cooperation, 2018). To make matters worse, most people, including myself, haven’t noticed these significant and startling facts. Most people have experienced the disappointment of finding rotten groceries in their refrigerator that were fresh the previous week. People in North America love to go shopping for groceries weekly; as a consequences, they tend to overbuy their favorite products and often buy unnecessary items that are on sale by impulse. Sometimes, the extra foods sit in storage for a long time, expire, and go into the garbage. In order to reduce these food wastes at the individual level, we can try to buy appropriate portions of food, and try to choose products with longer shelf lives. If people learn to recognize appropriate portions they need for a week, they can consume their foods in a timely manner. People need to obtain knowledge about foods life and how to keep food fresh in the refrigerator and freezer to reduce food spoilage. People can also make soups with most meal leftovers, so they can clean up their fridge while using up old ingredients without having to discard them. Individual household shopping restraint can add up to a big difference in food waste and greenhouse-gas production.
The retailer stage of the food supply chain generates a considerable amount of food waste. The main causes of food waste at the retailer stage include: over-stocking; confusing date labels; and, inaccurate supply- demand forecasting. Grocery stores, especially big volume super stores, try to order and overstock products up front and in the stock room to satisfy customer’s immediate and longer term demands. Their strategies are to keep the shelf empty, but also to sell as many products as possible. Consequently, these extra products often reach the best before dates; they are discarded in the garbage and shipped to landfill. The reason why grocery stores stock up and display more products than they sell is to maximize consumers purchasing behavior and increase profit. Farmer Delaney Zayac explains in the documentary “Just Eat it”, that, when he leaves one chard in the market, no one will buy it, but when he displays 30 chards, 25 of the chards are sold quickly. The video of “Food Waste causes Climate Change. Here's how we stop it.” says “Pile it high and watch it fly. Sellers need to produce an excess of food to sell their goods, but that excess can at times lead to more waste.” This analysis is very true, and ‘Pile it high and watch it fly’ is a part of full-funnel marketing strategies which cause conflicts between conducting food business and the resulting of food loss and waste. Label dates can be confusing. There are best before dates and expiration dates – they are different. Most company’s products emplace best before dates that presumably shorten the product’s life. Due to ignorance, consumers are often confused by what is the best before date and what is the expiry date. They then throw the product in the garbage, even though it is still quite edible. To avoid this form of sad food waste, retailers should simply eliminate words such as ‘best before’ and stick to ‘expiry dates’ to avoid discarding perfectly good foods.
The main important aspect in the food recovery stage is the practice of gleaning edible food that would be otherwise wasted. The source reduction and food rescue stages can have huge impacts on greenhouse gas emission. The saving of source reduction on greenhouse gas emission is more than 80 percent of green house emissions that is associated with food loss and waste (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2015). Greenhouse gas’s impact on source reduction are less than minus 4,000 kg CO2 e per tons of food loss and waste, and food rescue is minus 3,700 kg CO2 e per tons (The Waste and Resources Action Programme, 2016). These food recovery statistics and effects came from the efforts to reduce food loss and waste of each food supply chain stages. For instance, at post-harvest stage, RedHat Co-operative, a farmer co-operative, in Southern Alberta packed second-grade produce, sold it at discounted price to wholesale and grocery stores and approximately 23 tons of vegetables were sold in the initial pilot alone (Case Studies on Food Loss and Waste in North America, 2015). At the distribution stage, there is still room to reduce food loss by improving cold-chain management. At the retailer stage, in addition to sending edible foods to the Food Bank, stores can apply standard labeling dates on products which would be helpful in reducing food waste. At the food service stage, restaurants can offer appropriate portions. For instance, the Neigbourhood Group of Companies which operate restaurants in Ontario investigated their food loss and waste per dish and adjusted to smaller portions. As a result, food loss and waste was reduced and the profits were increased. At the customers’ stage, each person should go shopping smartly, and try not to waste our precious food resources. This will also save their money.
To conclude, food loss and waste have strong consequences in terms of climate change. Food loss and waste issues can be minimized by all of our efforts in all stages of the food supply chain. Therefore, we need to clearly understand the issues and take actions individually and at the corporate levels in order to make a difference. Food loss and waste issues are not food shortages; rather, they are often food surplus issues. When foods are produced, sold, and consumed efficiently, farmers don’t need to discard their imperfect crops causing land overuse and personal despair. Retailers shouldn’t need to dispose of perfectly good products due to poor marketing strategies. It is true that we love food, and we need food. That’s why we should appreciate all foods more and think carefully about our food production and consumption habits. As a society, we all need to work together to ensure that food loss and waste is kept to its absolutely minimum levels now and the future.
Commission for Environmental Cooperation. (2018). Characterization and Management of Food Loss and Waste in North America –White Paper. http://www3.cec.org/fw/food-waste-reports/
Commission for Environmental Cooperation. (2018). Noteworthy case studies on initiatives to reduce and recover food loss and waste. http://www3.cec.org/fw/food-waste-reports/
Love Food Hate Waste Canada (2020). Shelf Life. https://lovefoodhatewaste.ca/keep-it-fresh/shelf-life/
Our Changing Climate.(2020, March 27). Food Waste Causes Climate Change. Here’s how we stop it. [Video]. You Tube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MpfEeSem_4