Produce more? No! The challenge is to waste less food
How much food are you throwing away? At first glance, the amount of food you waste in your home may seem insignificant. In fact, most likely you have never stopped thinking about how much it is or what that waste means. But, for a moment, do not think about yourself, but about billions of families wasting food. The perspective changes, right? We are wasting a very valuable resource that, if we learn to manage well, could change many lives. Because we do not just talk about food waste at home. Before that food, fruit, vegetable or dish reaches us, tons of food have already been wasted on the way.
In short: the waste figures are dizzying. According to the FAO, these include both food loss (the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by food suppliers in the chain, excluding retailers, food service providers and consumers) and food waste (the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers).
For people and for the planet
“When you see everything that is lost, it makes you feel bad… it’s like not picking up a coin from the ground, letting the water run or not turning the light off”, explains Joan, a farmer from El Prat de Llobregat, Barcelona. Behind every food item that has been thrown away there is a huge amount of valuable resources that are also wasted, such as seeds, fuel and labour. Yes: reducing waste is also an ethical issue … and the survival of the planet depends on it. In fact, experts warned us a long time ago: it is essential to prevent food waste all along the supply chain if we want to give our ecosystems a break; Only then can we combat the effects of global warming and reduce the use of water and the pressure that humans are exerting on soils.
The data reported by FAO is overwhelming: while 690 million people go hungry in the world and 3,000 million cannot afford a healthy diet, a third of all the food we produce goes to waste. Just so you can picture this: Imagine that one in three tomatoes, one in three apples, one in three dishes consumed in your family end up in the garbage.
Reducing food waste and loss becomes even more important if we take into account the fact that the world population keeps growing, reaching historic figures. Also, despite the progress made in recent decades, hunger has been on the rise over the past five years and COVID-19 is jeopardising the food and nutrition security of up to 132 million more people. All this leads us to ask the following question: in the not-so-distant future, will it be possible to produce enough food for all without jeopardizing the habitability of the planet?
Industry specialists consider that we do not need to produce more food, but to manage it better. And in this more efficient, fair and sustainable management of resources, it is important to take into account proposals from the past as well as innovative ones.
Nothing to lose
Food loss begins in the field. Farmers carry out a first screening, selecting the fruits and vegetables that are considered “suitable” for sale. They discard those that do not have the characteristics expected by consumers. Characteristics that are purely aesthetic. The reality is that neither distributors nor families want to consume a deformed or defective cucumber. “That big or crooked cucumber is what we eat at my house, in my family. But we have become so delicate that now we want everything to be perfect”, says Joan.
The NGO Espigoladors is concerned about this issue. The organisation proposes to embrace tradition, encouraging crops to be gleaned, as was done in the past, thus taking advantage of the whole harvest. Gleaning is the act of collecting the remaining crops from farm fields, after the commercial harvesting process is complete. This practice has been recovered by Espigoladors. They now give ugly or imperfect fruits and vegetables a second chance. Along the way, they help people at risk of social exclusion. “We have to understand that we are all part of the problem and part of the solution”, explains Mireia Barba, co-founder of the institution, in this video.
Buying time: the key to fighting food waste
Science and technology also present innovative solutions. If we manage to keep food fresh for longer, it will give us valuable extra time to reach more people and reduce food waste. According to the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), one of the ways to achieve this is through food packaging that is capable of interacting with the product.
We are talking about packaging that is capable of releasing antioxidants, slowing the proliferation of microbes and absorbing oxygen to prevent the decomposition of the food it contains. Among the EUFIC projects, NanoPack stands out, an active type film with antimicrobial properties. To get an idea of its capabilities: bread wrapped in this film is capable of lasting up to three weeks in perfect conditions. Did you imagine that a food container could make such an important contribution? You can read more about this here.
A win-win situation
Another well received initiative is Too Good To Go. For a small sum of money, you can buy surplus food from your local store, restaurant or butcher. This way the merchant recovers the food costs that would otherwise have been discarded. And there is a surprise factor to it that people like: you do not know exactly what food items are in the package, but the satisfaction of saving food is 100 percent guaranteed. The brand also runs pioneering initiatives such as “Food Warriors Brands,” a growing community that brings together companies committed to reducing food waste, including organisations like Danone.
Yes, saving food is essential. But what if, in addition, we could prevent the surplus? Agrotech startup Twiga Foods is reducing the inefficiencies of the Kenyan food system, fairly, transparently and by optimising resources to the maximum. Every day, the platform connects 3,000 food stalls with fresh products through a network of 17,000 farmers and 8,000 suppliers. This contribution marks a before and after in the region, because restaurants can buy only what is necessary and farmers offer their local products more efficiently. The results speak for themselves: Twiga Foods managed to reduce post-harvest losses in Kenya by 30% to 4%.
Fortunately, there are many innovative ideas to combat food loss and waste. “If we all play our role and work together, we can make a big difference,” says Rosa Rolle, an FAO specialist, who also invites us to appreciate the value that each food item has. From your home, you can also play an important role. What are you doing to combat food waste? Get involved, here are some ideas!