A big food problem!
Food! It’s all about food, since the evolution of men it’s always been about survival, and one of the most important parts of survival is food. This makes food one of the most important parts of our lives, so it becomes funny or rather ironic that about one third of the food produced in the entire world is thrown away, before it could even be consumed (FAO, 2017) . It amounts to about 95-115 kilos of food, which is thrown away per capita, annually (FAO, 2017). This identifies that on average, in developed countries, more than $680 billion worth of waste is tossed. This means tons of perfectly edible and usable food are thrown away for no reason.
Now again, I don’t want you to be scared away by big facts, but did you know that the average European spends around 2 hours and 8 minutes daily on food prep and cleanup, which does not include the time spent on both thinking about and shopping for the food that we prepare and eat (Barlow, 2011). In developed countries we food shop on average for about 30 minutes a day. Similarly, we spend 40 to 45 minutes a day simply thinking about food (Barlow, 2011). Obviously, these statistics vary by country and depend on certain factors such as income and food security, which is why the statistics are slightly different in developing countries, where for example, the proportion on income spent on food daily is much higher because incomes are smaller. Regardless of the variations in statistics, most of the world in one way or another spends at least a couple hours on food activities every day, which in a lifetime easily adds up to a few years spent entirely on food. This just points out how much time we spend on food, both in terms of energy and money. So this begs the question, why are we so careless with our food habits? Why are we willing to invest so much time and money into food, which on the other hand results in environmental contamination and increased levels of food insecurity. Why do we spend so much on food that gets wasted, while millions of people can’t afford to have proper meals on a daily basis. It runs against any and all logic that we are spending extra time and money on food, while we can save both our time, money and reallocate extra food resources to those in need, by minimizing food waste from the beginning.
Not only should we be reducing food waste in our own homes and cooking habits, we should be reducing food waste at its source, meaning in farms and factories. There is no better way to reduce food waste than being completely aware of where your food comes from. The consumerist and capitalist structure that has ironically consumed all of our food habits has lead to our complete separation and removal from the food growing process. This has come to a point where some kids are unaware of how vegetables grow or what some vegetables even are. Therefore, how can we make an impact in reducing food waste if we ourselves are unaware of what it is we are really eating. For this reason alone, it is crucial to bring the said food process back to the people. We must make their food choices a possibility, while at the same time allowing their food choices to remain relevant and impactful for both food security and the environment.
What can we do locally and sustainably?
This is where sustainable, informed, approachable farming comes into the bigger picture. Farms and food production factories that are transparent about their food process, and that allow their customers to be a part of the food system, allow food waste to become a concern which they and their customers can act on. If people understand the process and the money it takes to grow their food, they will become more conscious with the way they treat and eat their food.
Luckily today, there are many people out there trying to not only, connect individuals to their food, but also make them aware of how sustainable food production works, and what can be done about it. This is done through a now widening approach called ‘farm to table’ where restaurants, shops, schools and individuals attempt to make a direct approach to acquiring their food. What this means is that they try to acquire food through direct links with people who produce this food, which in turn allows them to know if this food is grown locally and organically. However most unfortunately, as any ‘fad’ in our fast paced and ever changing world, the ‘fad’ of the ‘farm to table’ approach seems to have at some point been lost in translation. The term quickly became tarnished, rather than actually standing for something transparent and ethical. The term is quickly becoming a label or competition prize in the harsh and competitive restaurateur/fast food world. Where chefs and restaurants compete for the label without the same integrity of what it used to once mean. Rather than delving into this ‘farm to table’ approach and organically and ethically sourcing their ingredients, many restaurants and fast food chains use the term lightly, as a so called medal for their mediocre attempts to be ‘on trend’. That is of course not to say that there are people out there in the culinary world that do not respect the integrity of this notion, because clearly, there are. But recently, it is more commonly becoming a caricature of what it once meant, as many other ‘fads’ have and continue to do. They become used and applied in many questionable and inauthentic ways. As the word “sustainability” is often used as a superficial guise and marketing technique for non Eco-friendly operations, so is the term ‘farm to table’.
However, this does not mean all hope is lost for what used to be an inspired approach, because far away from the hubs of fancy restaurants and big chains, there are still people, your average Joes’, who want to acquire that farm to table approach for themselves. Equally, there are farms and food producers who are willing to provide that service for people. Therefore, the way we grow food needs to change, it needs to become more biologically and environmentally sensitive. Already, people are opening the doors of their farms and orchards, where for a small price anyone can come in and pick however much produce they like right off the plants. This is just one simple way of doing things in a more transparent and open way, where production and consumption are linked at a sensible stage in the process. As Sustainable Table points out, bringing food production back to local levels is crucial. Having people invest in Farmers Markets, Community Supported Agriculture and things like ‘Pick Your Own’ farms. Let people invest in the way they want their food to be grown. Accessible and affordable alternatives cannot be achieved without the right incentives and the right support. The consumerist chains sometimes hold a monopoly on food processes which makes it difficult for people’s food actions to have any resonance in reducing food waste, which is why local solutions need to be supported.
This doesn’t only apply to the developed world. Resources and technologies must be provided and supported in the developing world for people to actively and successfully grow their own produce. The IIED promotes bringing sustainable agriculture to poorer nations by providing immediate benefits, technologies, carrying out research and providing policy support and coherence to local farmers (IIED, 2015). People have incentive, we have seen this through surging amounts of organizations and sustainable stores that focus on reducing food waste and bringing food chains closer to its consumers. Recently, The Farm Project (2017) was started by Zooey Deschanel a well known public figure in the US, where she is attempting to use her platform to make an impact on bringing people closer to their food sources. This shows that the right platform and the correct support system can have an impact on the way individuals act and decide on food waste issues. Similarly, food factories can also have a positive way of looking at food and decreasing waste which will immediately impact their customers, because they will reconsider their actions when purchasing these products. For example companies like, Toast Ale in the UK which is a company that acquires left over bread from restaurants and then uses it to brew its ale. There is also ReGrained who use left over grains from craft beer production to make protein bars, or Misfit Juicery in DC, which creates beautiful juices from discarded or misshapen fruits which are discarded by most supermarkets (Grover, 2017).
These few examples prove that people are willing to make an effort but they need the incentive from our governing bodies to make a sizable dent in the inefficient, highly wasteful and intoxicated food supply monster. As Tom Hunt, a food waste activist and chef points out: “We need to re-populate the countryside and change the way farming is done. My main focus would be to change the subsidy structure: make it financially viable for people moving out of cities to create their own regenerative, agro-ecological farms that encourage biodiversity”(Hughes, 2017). If actions are not made, this can and will have numerous consequences both in terms of food security and environmental stability, through issues like biodiversity loss or environmental catastrophes and climatic changes. Sustainability in food is not a wild and unattainable goal, as Hunt points out, food and food waste are “tangible” problems, meaning a real difference can and should be made. So next time you are out there buying and preparing food, think about where it came from, how it was made and who it is harming in the process, and remember just because food is sustainable or ugly does not mean it is bad or it is going to cost you more. Look up organizations such as Taste Before You Waste and notice people out there are trying to make a difference in how food is seen and approached, and most of all that they are trying to make it cheap and accessible to all. Open your eyes and don’t spend those two hours of your day on generating food waste, but rather spend them fighting it. Make a stand with your food choices and make those few hours of your day worthwhile for yourself, other people and our planet.