Before delving into a subject that I have been very passionate about in recent years, I want to link you to a fabulous documentary.
Food waste is an issue that costs Canada $31 billion EVERY YEAR. With prominent names like John Oliver and David Suzuki taking up the issue and promoting awareness of food waste and how we can curb it, I hope we can slowly decrease this sum and re-allocate food to those who need it.
Most of us associate food waste with what happens at the consumer level – we buy produce and other perishable goods from the store, have it sit in our fridge for way too long, and then eventually throw it out when it starts to go bad. This actually accounts for almost half of the total sum mentioned above. Most of this waste is food purchased with the intention of consuming it but ends up in landfills or compost. On a household level, we waste up to 25% of the food we purchase. The documentary Just Eat It paints a vivid picture of this – imagine buying four grocery bags full of food and then casually dropping one on the way to your car in the parking lot. Although that isn’t the case in reality, that is the equivalent of letting that much food rot in your fridge over a length of time. This sounds scary, but this is encouraging. All of us can make a HUGE difference by simply eating it. Eat all the food you buy and we’ve diminished the problem.
Further up the chain, retailers (largely large supermarkets and restaurants/hotels) contribute to another 20% – much of the food that is in stock near their expiry date simply gets turfed. Not donated, composted, sold for a lower price elsewhere – just thrown out. In fact, in some cases, food is thrown out well before their best before date. Additionally, best before dates aren’t even a true reflection of when a certain product will go bad – it is a producer’s recommended date for the optimal freshness and taste of the product. There isn’t even a consistent definition for this date and sometimes even the manufacture date or sell by date are confused for the date of expiry and this causes even more food to be thrown out by retailers. Their reasoning? That the food may be unsafe for consumption and they will be sued if they donate it and someone gets sick. This cannot actually happen by virtue of the Good Samaritan Law, which states that if donors give food in good faith, they are absolved of all liability. The same holds for a single person’s donation to the food bank, for example.
The remaining food is wasted at processing facilities and at the farm. Knowing that supermarkets want to display only the most perfect looking produce on their shelves, many farms throw away, or don’t harvest, much of their produce. This not only results in perfectly good fruit and vegetables being thrown away because they are misshapen or slightly bruised, but also constitutes a large waste in the resources needed to grow this produce in the first place.
If I haven’t convinced you that food waste is a problem that we can all help diminish, I hope John Oliver can: