“Eat of their fruit in season but give (the poor) their due on harvest day. And do not waste, for God doesn’t love the wasteful” – says Quran, the holy book of Islam. The holy wisdom considers wasting food as a deadly sin. Well, you might wonder what is so deadly about little leftovers. If your thoughts are driving you to any of such similar conclusion, understand that you don’t have a complete picture of what you are doing.
Around the globe, human beings produce enough food waste to feed three billion people (nearly 40% of world population). Over 30% of the world’s food supply is wasted for nothing. These numbers may feel a bit unreal for you to believe, but these are real, authentic statics of food waste all around the world. The former United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon noted that there is enough food in this world to satisfy the need of the entire population, yet millions are starving-and unless we take action, it will devastate our planet.
Image source: worldbank.org
Food Loss and Food Waste
Food waste or food loss can happen during different stages of starting from production/cultivation to consumption. Considering the case of the western countries, wastage is approximately 40 percent of the total production. The condition of the East and the Middle East isn’t much different. Majority of the wastage is happening in the end of the food value chain- that is by retailers and consumers. But how is the food we waste in our homes related to a starving child in South Africa? Does it actually matter? Indirectly it does. The overconsumption of food in the developed countries increases the global food demand. The more the developed countries consume the higher the global food price. A big part of the world population is starving to death for no reason. Looking things in such a perspective we can say that the biggest problem our world facing today is neither terrorism nor global warming but it’s this huge imbalance in global food supply.
Another Geopolitical Issue for the Future
Food waste is not only a social problem, but it contributes to growing environmental problems like climate change. Experts say that with the production of food consuming vast quantities of water, fertilizers and land the efforts and investments we put on the production is large. Not only that, the fossil fuel that is burned to process, refrigerate and transportation is added to the environmental cost.
Most of the food that we waste is thrown away in landfills, where it decomposes and emits methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Globally, food waste creates 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. That’s about 7 percent of the total emission.
If the current situation of food scarcity/food wastage is not contained effectively, the chance for it to grow as a geopolitical issue is very high. It’s estimated that earth’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050. By then, food production must be increased by 70% to meet the demand of the overgrown population. With the current rate of wastage, it will be difficult for the global economy to meet this need. Another problem is the climate change. The increasing abnormality in the climate is adversely affecting the agriculture sector. Floods, droughts and other increasingly irregular weather patterns will only worsen in future. To increase the food production to 70% in such adverse conditions is near to impossible task, which leaves us with only one option that is to consume effectively with minimum waste.
Image source: feedbackglobal.org
Food and Social Media
Do the social media have anything to do with food waste? Yes, it does. A recent study says that social media could be fuelling food wasting in the UK. A number of plates filled with good looking food, arranged in specific pattern and style is truly an appetizing image. Selfies and tweets picturing the self along with some steaming colorful dish sure do attract your followers, and it will make your timeline a little bit more colorful. So what happens to all of that food after they are photographed? Majority of them are left unused because they are ruined by the tweak and poke they receive during the makeup process.
“I am the one who takes home anything edible, half empty jars, ends of loaves etc. from photo shoots so it’s not wasted. If I prepare food at home for a shoot, I eat it, all of it” – Says Sally Prosser a food blogger based in Dubai.
Who is to Blame
So, who is responsible for all this mess? Who should we point the finger at? The industry? The politicians? The farmers? The retailers and hotels?
Global food waste scandal is a self-perpetuating system. We, the consumers become accustomed to such high standards that we cannot accept wonky fruit and vegetables in markets. Our choices or desire for the perfectly shaped and colored food affect the entire food production value chain and that force farmers to toss out perfectly good fruits and vegetables because of the way they look.
So if you are looking for someone who is responsible for this, you won’t find him elsewhere but deep inside you. In the deepest corner of your mind hide someone who doesn’t care if he has some leftovers in his/her plates, someone who doesn’t mind to throw away edible food. It’s towards that part person you should point your fingers.
Food Waste Management – The UAE Model
Food wastage is not a rare phenomenon in UAE. The per capita daily amount of waste generated in UAE is 2.7 kg. This rises to 5.4 kg during Ramadan. In 2013 UAE was one of the highest ranking inefficient food consumers in the world. 19 percent of the waste heading for the landfill sights consist of food waste. UAE is now in the path of rethinking. Efforts have been taken to educate the people of the need and necessity of food management. “Since the beginning of the year, we have worked on a federal food diversification policy which will cover the whole food chain from consumption to disposal”- says Al Abdooli who is at the forefront of efforts to curb food waste in UAE.
Consumer Alliance Against Food Waste
Food waste scandal activist Selina Juul created a group on Facebook “Stop wasting food” in 2008. Today the group has developed into a movement against food waste. The movement has over 7000 members and is also supported by prominent personalities and politicians. They have published an award-winning leftovers cookbook which enables people to cook tasty food with leftovers we usually throw away. This is an example of how ordinary people can do extraordinary things. But consumers alone cannot fight this big battle. All the stakeholders in the food production value chain including farmers, industry, retailers, canteens, restaurants and food services should work together in this rather difficult war against food waste.
Recently, the UN said that if the amount of food wasted around the world was reduced to 25 percent, there would be enough food to feed all the malnourished people in his planet. Earlier this year, the Huffington post brought some good news: it was that the food waste in Denmark was reduced to 25 percent. In Australia, the OzHarvest is feeding thousands with surplus food; in Europe the UN FAO launched the SAVE FOOD initiative and another FAO/UNEP campaign, Think. Eat. Save is making substantial progress. If it was possible to reduce food waste in Denmark by 25 percent, it should be possible globally.
The Only Solution is "YOU"
So, what are the solutions of the global food waste scandal? Everyone knows that the answer to this question lies within us. But are we waiting for somebody else to do initiate? We the consumers have the power to change the entire system. And all it takes is one simple personal step: Stop wasting food. It’s not the industry and the retailers dictate your shopping habits, it is you. Demand wonky fruit and vegetable from the stores. Don’t fall for quantity discounts of food, if you don’t need it since the balance will be wasted. Don’t overstuff your plates at the cafeteria if you already know that you can only eat half. Ask for a doggy bag at a restaurant if needed. And speak your mind out, spread the word. Encourage positive action everywhere. Encourage the food industry to donate edible surplus food for charities and other similar organizations.