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GREENINGS (APRIL 2017): Solving the food waste problem

April 10th, 2017 · No Comments

We need to change ingrained cultural practices

Food waste is a $31-billion problem.

Every year, roughly 40 per cent of perfectly edible food that is grown and imported is thrown away. Of that, households account for half of the problem. Discarded food usually takes the form of unwanted leftovers, imperfect food deemed unsalable, oversupply, and, worst of all, supply management (throwing away food to keep prices high).

“Our attitudes surrounding food need to change.”

Part of the culprit is cheap food. Outside of northern areas, food doesn’t really cost that much in Canada. We often buy much more than we can eat and throw away lots of perfectly edible food. Another part of the problem is our own demand for pretty-looking food. If an apple isn’t perfectly shaped or has a slight bruise, it will often end up rejected and discarded.

Whether food looks perfect or not, it takes a lot of energy, effort, and in some cases fertilizer and pesticide to produce. Ultimately, the more we waste, the higher our greenhouse gas emissions are for food that doesn’t even make it into our stomachs.

The world watches anxiously as some of the largest producers of staples rapidly deplete groundwater resources to grow food that ultimately doesn’t get eaten. The problem is a real one and it is big. A recent study suggests that the United States, Pakistan, and India are the biggest exporters of food grown using unsustainable groundwater. When we run out of irrigation water, Malthus will be proven correct.

This is not the path we want to head towards. While it might mean lower profits for multinationals, I think it’s imperative that we look at our eating habits and find ways to cut the waste.

Reducing waste can be as simple as finding creative ways to make leftovers more appealing or consciously cooking/ordering smaller quantities. As a woman who grew up with a quintessential Chinese grandmother, this can be a challenge. If people weren’t rolling away from your dinner table, you were viewed as having failed.

Our attitudes surrounding food need to change. The surge in wealth in China has created a middle class who view it as a status symbol to be able to afford to order large quantities of food and deliberately toss it. When my parents owned a restaurant, I observed this behaviour, and, despite it not being in our economic interests, I showed my disdain for it. My mother always made me do two things at the dinner table. I had to eat every grain of rice in my bowl since a farmer worked very hard to grow, harvest, and husk it, and I had to eat all the meat I was given since an animal died for it. If we treated food with even this basic level of respect, food waste could decrease substantially.

At the household level, this problem we can all have a small impact on by looking hard at our own habits. On a systemic level, we need stronger public policies that steer us in the right direction. The University of Toronto has a Food Systems Lab that looks at this exact problem on a high level. The research they produce will hopefully inform future public policy makers on how to reduce this $31-billion problem. I suspect what they come up with likely won’t be popular since industry tends to abhor change. It will be up to us to make sure we tell our lawmakers that reducing food waste, in any capacity, is something we are willing to vote for.

We can’t keep wasting our children’s future. The food we waste now is food they won’t have the opportunity to grow when the water has run out.

Why Should I Care? is hosting a free talk on Food Waste at the Madison Avenue Pub on April 24 at 7 p.m.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths.

 

READ MORE GREENINGS BY TERRI CHU:

Kellie Leitch was right (March 2017)

Feeling the carbon tax crunch? (January 2017)

A green, meaningful Christmas (December 2016)

Force the focus (November 2016)

 

Tags: Annex · Life