The production line of a pre-cooked food factory, the aisles of a supermarket, the fridge of an individual’s home, a restaurant kitchen or a school dining room kitchen are all scenes of a daily routine which causes more than 9 million tonnes of food a year, in Spain alone, to be wasted, despite its viable consumption. The numbers studied and published regarding this topic coincide in a figure which leads to the reflection: the food that is thrown away in European countries and the United States could indeed be used to feed the rest of the world’s population.
In the case of large supermarket chains, this occurrence takes place due to the decision not to shelve any foods which are close to their expiration date and the opinion that vegetables, fruits, meat and fish should be attractive to the human eye. A yoghurt with a “recommended consumption date” approaching, a carrot with an uneven shape or a packet of rocket and lamb’s lettuce which is not at its greatest, are all clear targets for disposal, meaning that each year around 40 million tonnes of food are wasted around the world.
Although usually the accusing finger of this squander points towards supermarkets and restaurants, the greatest quantity of wasted food takes place inside individual homes. Advocating a rational use of food without actually applying these concepts in our kitchens demonstrates a clear lack of commitment and an unsupportive conduct. A study by the University of Cardiff indicates that 5% of food resources is wasted in the agricultural sector, 7% during processing and distribution, 10% in retail and 33% by the consumers themselves. Thus, the key to this problem is clear.
There are already many different types of movement that are committed to moderation and logic in the management of food processes. As well as various campaigns (e.g. CRECE by Oxfam International), or publications and agreements among different governments, the Freegan movement is slowly but surely gaining strength, promoting a lifestyle free of consumerism and waste. Its most radical version proposes “dumpster diving”, which encourages its supporters to look for food in supermarket rubbish bins.
Another aspect to this problem is related with the negative effects that the overconsumption of foods has on the planet. Animals and plants are abused for our benefit, at a rate which is above our actual needs. Humans provoke a change in the traditional and logical methods of crop and livestock production, from having to adapt to the fast pace of the population’s excessive consumption.
Finally, the need for foods to be attractive to the eye leads to more than half of the foods produced being thrown away before even reaching consumers. Thus, new citizen movements, which put quality above quantity and appearance, are fighting to avoid the destruction of these foods that are considered to be “unacceptable” for shop shelves and are victims of the so-called “cosmetic discard”. Between 20% and 40% of fruit and vegetables in the EU is wasted due to its appearance. Similarly, between 40% and 60% of fish caught in the EU is discarded before reaching land due to the size of the fish. Farmers, aware of these dismissals, have fallen into a trap that, bit by bit, is having environmental consequences: planting crops in excess of what is needed for sales, in order to allow for these cosmetic criteria.
What are the possible solutions? As well as conscientious and logical shopping and the responsible management of resources by businesses themselves, in order to gradually decrease the numbers of wasted foods, specific commitments by companies can raise awareness in society.
Tristram Stuart, author of “Despilfarro”, a work which reports on the malfunction of the world food system, proposes three R’s as a solution: Reduce (adjusting production levels to meet consumption levels), Redistribute (donating those excess foods so that they are consumed) and Recycle (new uses for excess foods, such as food for livestock or a source of heat, energy and compost).
Commitments like that of the restaurant Rub and Stub are examples of the increasingly frequent proposals that are being put forward to challenge this problem. The first example is a Danish restaurant that is dedicated to fighting against food wastage, using surplus foods as ingredients in its dishes. Wefood supermarkets which opened in March of this year, also in Denmark, sell products which have passed their expiry date and are sold at a rate that is between 30% and 50% cheaper than usual. Queues have been continual since opening.
As well as these actions, several petitions have been designed to request the logical management of foods or to ask for supermarkets to get more involved in this issue. The introduction of laws has also been witnessed, like that of France, which prevents supermarkets from being able to throw out excess foods but instead donate them.
Written by Eurodesk Qualified Multiplier, Instituto de la Juventud de Extremadura