A recent British study purporting that as much as fifty percent of the world’s food goes to waste, is alarming and disconcerting to put it mildly. Why is there such a high percentage of food wastage in a world beset by famine, and what steps can we put into place to remedy this situation?
Underlying this alarming statistic is the clear disparity between the wealth of first world and third world countries. As consumers privileged to be residing in a first world country, what we so wantonly discard, would be considered a luxurious banquet for those struggling to survive in the third world nations, where they contend with disease and live on the edge of famine on a daily basis. We need to change our purchasing habits by being more selective in our food choices, to minimise waste, and be more pro-active in supporting the work of organisations that assist and contribute to famine relief.
Everyone’s attitudes towards food vary. Some people quietly meditate whilst eating, reflecting on its nutritional content and the overall health benefits it provides. On the other hand, many do not, and display an indifferent attitude towards food. We are accustomed to shopping trolleys brimming over with foodstuffs sourced from different parts of the world, much of it packaged and processed. The vast majority of these items bearing “use by” labels encouraging consumers to believe, that even heavily processed and preserved foods become unpalatable after a short time.
Citizens who have lived through previous wars and concentration camps would be aghast at such blatant food wastage. Just about everything now has a ‘use by date’ or ‘best before date’. Products which in previous times would have been acceptable well beyond their current ‘use by’ dates are now being discarded as a matter of course. We need to question whether this ‘use by date’ mentality, has in part been promoted in order to generate greater sales of products. Manufacturers realise that consumers confronted by a ‘use by’ date are more likely to discard food which is still palatable and safe to consume. We have put common sense aside and millions of years of evolution that developed in us all, the ability to recognise when food is spoilt, rotten or mouldy.
“Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30-50% (or 1.2-2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach”.
The prevailing system of food distribution and marketing controlled by very large international companies brings with it “unrealistic” competition in the market place. In the pursuit of the consumer dollar, supermarket chains will access product from around the world offering it to consumers, irrespective of seasonal availability. Such a system has an inbuilt wastage factor. Some foods are simply not fresh by the time they reach the supermarket shelf and are therefore likely to be rejected by customers. The vendor however, continues to run the line of produce even though it is less profitable, simply because its availability ensures that customers will return to their store for other lines. Less concentration in the food industry would see vendors being less prepared to carry uneconomic lines which would ensure that wastage in transportation and distribution would be minimised.
Education is the key to help reduce the massive food wastage occurring around the world. Multi nationals who relinquish non-perfect supermarket lines to the compactus should alter their mindset. Rejecting vegetables on the basis of their inability to conform to the stereotype required by supermarket chains and food processing companies is wasteful and unnecessary. Living in a first world country should not excuse us to dispose of edible food as freely so readily. People living in third world countries are grateful for all food, and do not take it for granted. We should pay greater heed to our burgeoning world population and the central role that equitable access to food plays. Population growth places increased pressure on us to use arable land and water as productively as possible, as well as exploiting natural resources sustainably to ensure their availability for future generations. Being less wasteful in our consumption of food is the other side of the same coin.