At this year’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, five actors involved in addressing the current food waste crisis came together to share their work and encourage change for the future. On the panel were three experts: Alexandre Meybeck, Senior Policy Officer at FAO, Professor Paolo Corvo of the University of Gastronomic Sciences and Maria Louisa Amerio, a nutrition expert who recently conducted a food waste report within Piedmontese hospitals. Joining them were Kathleen Mann, an American college student, and Kazuhiro Kimura, a Japanese chef.
In recent years, the problem of food waste has begun to receive attention from governments, consumers, and businesses in countries around the world. It is a critical topic because it lies at the crossroads of so many of the other issues surrounding the 21st century’s broken food system.
Food waste occurs along the entire food chain. It is connected to food security, land grabbing, and access to adequate resources in the developing world. Most waste in these parts of the world occurs in the pre-consumer stage, both due to a lack of appropriate storage and transportation methods, and the purchasing of land by foreign governments which is then not used to produce food for the local community.
Wasting food also means wasting the land, water, energy, and labor resources that went into producing it and delivering it to its final destination. It is symbolic of the loss of traditional knowledge and culture around the world as foods which are perfectly edible are discarded or ignored in favor of “newer”, imported or industrial foods, threatening the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.
In the developed world, the majority of food waste occurs in the post-production and consumer stages, where aesthetic qualities and constant access to variety are primary objectives for supermarkets and households. It is a clear example of a category within the sustainable food movement which needs to be evaluated in order to address the critical lack of cultural, social, environmental and economic sustainability. In addition, solutions need to be specific to territories and to the various stages of production and consumption.
Alexandre Meybeck quoted from the FAO’s High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition saying, ‘Food waste is not an accident, but an integral part of the way food systems function.’ It is an inherent part of the status quo because the more food that is wasted, the more food is produced, putting more money into the hands of the select few who control the food system, leaving the rest of us to pay the social and environmental costs. As a result, it is impossible to address food waste as a single issue.
Three players involved in generating food waste were identified by the speakers: on the micro-level are single actors, i.e. everyday consumers. On the mid-level are those players that link the system together, such as restaurants and supermarkets, while on the macro-level are the government and international organizations that create laws and promote values which influence the decisions people make throughout the system.
Food waste goes against what Slow Food values, because it blatantly disregards the real value of our food.
There is hope to be found in the fight against food waste happening around the world. A large nonprofit organization, called the Food Recovery Network, which started in 2011, now operates on 191 college campuses in over 40 states in the USA, conducting “food rescue” in order to divert food that would otherwise be destined for landfill to people in need of healthy meals. In addition, alternative pathways to sell less visually attractive foods are being opened to connect consumers with equally nutritious food that is not accepted by most supermarket standards. In Japan, the concept of ‘salvage parties’ has gained traction among consumers. People bring their leftover ingredients from home and come together to share a meal where the items are prepared by a professional chef. These are just a few of the many projects actively fighting food waste and working to create a new food system for the future.
Food waste may be considered by some as a necessary evil in today’s global food network. Let this be our wake-up call to divert our energies towards a different, sustainable model of food production and consumption, one which mimics nature in eliminating the creation of waste in the cycle.