Interview with Rosa Rolle: “Each individual as a consumer can make a difference in reducing their own food waste”
Food waste is an issue for all of us. And across the world we are committed to meeting the global target to halve food waste by 2030 and reduce food loses. We talked about this with Rosa Rolle, Team Leader Food Losses and Food Waste from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
—The food waste figures are worrying. But perhaps the most shocking aspect of all is that we don’t really know these numbers. What are the reasons for this?
—In 2011, FAO provided the first rough estimate of the combined levels of food loss and waste globally, as the equivalent to one third of the food produced globally.
Today, on the basis of work being undertaken by FAO on the Food Loss Index, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the Food Waste Index, we now have more precise estimates of the global levels of food loss and food waste.
FAO in 2019, published the Global Food Loss Index, which indicates that approximately 14 per cent of food produced, valued at USD 400 billion per year, is lost from the post-harvest stage up to, but excluding, the retail stage of the food supply chain.
UNEP in 2021 published an estimate of the Global Food Waste Index, which indicates that a further 17 per cent of total global food production (981 million tonnes) may be wasted (11 per cent in households, 5 per cent in food service and 2 per cent in retail).
Both agencies are currently working on the development of a methodology to combine the indicators into a Sustainable Development Goal indicator for reporting on SDG target 12.3. SDG target 12.3 seeks to, by 2030 halve per capita global food waste and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest loss.
—How bad is the problem?
—Reducing food loss and waste is essential in our world today, where up to 828 million people go hungry every day. Food loss and waste implies an urgent risk for climate change, agricultural sustainability, human livelihoods and food supplies. When food is lost or wasted, environmental costs have been incurred unnecessarily, as energy, fuel and water were used to produce food that will never be consumed.
At the economic level, the impacts of food loss and waste are substantial- if the cost of the inputs, land, labor and energy – used in producing that food, processing it, packaging it and transporting it are considered.
From a social point of view, food loss and waste can undermine food security by reducing food access and availability.
—Throwing food away is wrong and we already know the solutions. What are we missing to stop throwing away food?
—Consumers are increasingly becoming physically and emotionally distanced from their food. In particular, consumers in urban centres, often have relatively little knowledge about the origins of their food and the environmental costs involved in getting it from the farm to their tables. For many, food is increasingly perceived as a product – just like any other product available on the market.
Educating consumers to value food for its worth – that goes well beyond its price – will be critical in strengthening consumer engagement with the food they consume, toward helping to stem the problem of food waste.
—How important is the role of the consumer in this problem?
—Each individual as a consumer can make a difference in reducing their own food waste. The collective action of each consumer in reducing food waste can have a significant impact.
Consumers can reduce food waste by planning their food purchases and daily menus, buying only what is necessary, and storing their food properly, ensuring that highly perishable foods and those with a ‘use-by’ date are consumed within the specified time frame.
Consumers can also make use of their left-over food by including it in tasty dishes, rather than throwing it away and can donate unwanted food of good quality that is properly packaged, to charitable organizations, rather than throwing it away.
—Our grandmothers were masters of making the best of food through delicious recipes, do you think that tradition could be part of the solution?
—In my perspective, these traditional values would certainly contribute to reducing food waste. They could help in developing an appreciation of the cultural background and the value of such recipes and the ingredients that go into preparing them, which would give a special meaning and value to the consumption of these foods.
—Is world hunger related to a poor food production or simply to poor management of food?
—Globally, enough food is being produced or in stock to meet dietary energy needs for everyone on the planet.
The “hungry” or people who experience severe food insecurity are generally among the poorest of the poor. Hunger is directly linked to poverty, and the lack of policies that ensure food security.
—One of the most determining factors when it comes to buying food is the price. Do you think that the low prices we see in some supermarkets are contributing to devalue food?
—The low prices in supermarkets and the crazy offers on food shelves indeed contribute to the devaluation of food as people are likely to waste low priced foods in comparably larger quantities owing to their price.
Many food staples – for example bread and rice – are often some of the cheapest, but most wasted foods in many countries.
—Do you think that proximity food could help change our relationship with food?
—When food or grocery stores are in proximity, consumers are likely to shop more frequently for perishable foods, in particular, and waste much less. In situations where consumers travel over long distances to purchase food there is often a tendency to purchase large quantities of perishables that often end up being wasted due to spoilage.
—When it comes to food loss and waste, innovation is on our side. What current initiatives do you think are valuable or worth mentioning?
—In recent times, we have seen an increase in the development of apps that help consumers to reduce food waste in the home by tracking the use-by dates of food and recommending its consumption or recipes to maximise the use of food ingredients in the household to prevent it from being wasted.
Food sharing apps are used by restaurants, cafes and bakeries to reduce food waste by making surplus food prepared by these establishments available for sale. Food sharing apps are also used to connect supermarkets to charities and help neighbours in sharing unwanted food, rather than discarding it.
Mobile phone applications are increasingly being used by farmers in developing countries to identify markets to sell their crops and reduce post-harvest losses.
Innovations in food packaging, that maintain the quality and shelf-life of food, reduce food loss and waste and the burden of packaging waste management are also very valuable in fighting food loss and waste. While a considerable body of work is on-going, much needs to be done globally to help the stem the problem of the environmental persistence of packaging waste that is associated with food waste.
—When we buy local food and supply chains become shorter, we see with our own eyes the faces of those who are involved in its production. Do you think that shopping local could help us to revalue food and stop throwing it away?
—The globalization of food supply chains has to some extent resulted in a loss of local food culture. Shopping local, could very likely contribute to bringing back some of these values, in that it would lead to a better appreciation of local foods and the work and effort that goes into to producing them and getting them to the plate of the consumer.
Locally produced foods are generally fresher, of higher nutritional value and more appealing than food that has travelled extensively over long periods.
From my personal perspective there is definitely a difference between purchasing food in a local fresh produce market than in a supermarket.