Two for me, one for the bin… two for me, one for the bin… Astonishingly, this is effectively what we are doing with food: globally, one third of food is wasted. Crazy, I know! Particularly, considering millions of people around the world face hunger every day.
So how and why does all this food get thrown away? Unfortunately, it’s a complex problem and wastage is present throughout our globalised food chain. Often the food we eat is grown and processed in different countries and transported vast distances to get to our plate. Food is wasted by food producers, in transport and storage, processing and distribution, by retail outlets, right through to consumers who account for around 22% of food waste globally.
Earlier this week, I was helping OzHarvest raise awareness of food waste and its impacts at the Brisbane City Council’s Ecofair. In Australia, we are coming into mango season. This luscious, juicy and versatile fruit is grown in sub-tropical and tropical regions of the country. As an example, according to a 2009 CSIRO study, around half of mangoes that leave farms in Australia, are being thrown away each year (while more don’t even make it out the farm gate). Some of them are often rejected because they are ugly, blemished or the wrong size. Those that do, are transported thousands of kilometres to consumers across Australia and further afield. Being easily perishable, many of them don’t make it to consumers at all, or are thrown away in people’s homes once they become a bit soft or bruised.
So what? Why should I care? The impacts of food waste are many. It’s costing us economically to produce, transport and store this food we don’t use. It’s also costing us ecologically. If you think about all the energy, land, water and other inputs like fertilisers and packaging used to produce, process, transport and store food, one third of these elements used in the food chain is effectively all for nothing! On top of this, food waste that ends up in landfills doesn’t decompose properly, creating methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change. Food waste contributes to many other problems such as deforestation, habitat loss and decreasing biodiversity, air and water pollution and drought. And what’s more, many of us are affected by these increasing economic and ecological stresses, not to mention the millions who go hungry when there is enough food in the world to feed everyone.
Changing the whole global food system is a mammoth task, one which surpasses the capability of individual consumers. However, we can all help reduce waste in our homes. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with food that’s a bit past it. Fortunately, there’s plenty of help around. In the case of mangoes, at this week’s Ecofair, OzHarvest’s Sustainable Chef Simon Grigalius showed us how to make a delicious mango salsa or chutney, perfect for those mangoes which are a little soft or squishy. The Love Food Hate Waste campaigns in the UK and New Zealand both have plenty of tips to keep food from being binned. OzHarvest’s recent THINK. EAT. SAVE! campaign encourages you to THINK about how much food you need to buy, EAT what you have and freeze leftovers and SAVE yourself time and money (as well as food, of course!). OzHarvest are also equipped with plenty of food saving tips and ‘wasty recipes’ to help you out further.
Helping OzHarvest talk to people about food waste and mangoes (!) at this week’s Ecofair with fellow volunteer Hayley and Sustainable Chef Simon
While food waste is a huge problem, it’s something we can all easily think about and contribute to reducing. Food is precious. Let’s use it to nourish rather than consume the earth.