by Marion Nestle
Sep 27 2016

Food waste and its discontents

I try not to waste food.  At worst, I compost leftovers.

Food waste is a huge issue these days, not least because it appears to be an obvious solution to world hunger.

A great many people are working on projects to reduce food waste.

Reducing food waste makes us feel like we are doing something to reduce hunger—in the same way that working for food banks makes us feel good about what we are doing.  Dealing with food waste is even easier.

It’s easy to understand why so many people have jumped on the food-waste bandwagon.  It’s as downstream—close to the individual and furthest away from policy—as you can get.  It’s easy.  It costs nothing.  It feels good.

Whereas: Trying to achieve upstream policies to alleviate poverty to reduce hunger is frustratingly difficult, expensive, and slow, and not nearly as much fun.

This is why I was so pleased to see the commentary from Nick Saul, author of The Stop, his book about his struggles to feed hungry people while directing a food bank in Canada.  I hope he won’t mind my quoting extensively from his piece:

  • Food waste will never be able to address hunger because hunger isn’t about a lack of food. It’s about a lack of income. People are food insecure because they can’t afford to eat.
  • Waste isn’t about not having enough mouths to feed. It’s about inefficiencies and bureaucracy in the food system that see crops tilled under and lost in the production process; other crops that are overproduced as a result of antiquated agricultural policy and incentive programs; a retail system that has overabundance built into its operation model; and individual consumers who buy food with the best intentions, only to have it spoil in the back of the fridge.
  • The food that we throw out unnecessarily gobbles up resources, including energy, water, land and labour to the tune of $100 billion each year. And the food that ends up rotting in landfills fuels climate change by generating 20 per cent of Canada’s methane gas emissions.
  • If we want to tackle this monumental problem, we need a whole-system approach — from taxing waste to public education on reducing waste in our own kitchens.
  • Instead of incentivizing waste by dangling corporate tax credits, we ought to support employees fighting for fair, livable wages. And let’s put those same tax dollars into building the social infrastructure required to ensure no one will ever again need to rely on someone else’s leftovers for sustenance.
  • It’s time to create real, long lasting solutions to poverty and hunger, policies that bring us together, rather than divide us as citizens.

If you are working on food waste initiatives, how about also trying to get some of them focused on upstream approaches such as the ones he suggests.