Human

The global food dump

 By Michelle Leslie

Food waste is a growing global problem and our wasteful relationship with food is alarming…

Every year, over 1 billion tons of food is diverted away from dinner plates and instead sent to waste facilities or green landfills.
According to World Vision, we waste enough food globally to feed 2 billion people, which means if we took that waste and diverted it to dinner plates, global hunger would be a thing of the past.
“A lot of [food] is being captured and given to food banks but not a lot of it is being preserved to try and save it,” according to James Smith, president of Prairie Gleaners, a Canadian non-profit organization that gathers food waste and dehydrates it for distribution. “I think the [preservation aspect] would go a long way in solving this problem.”

Global temperature rises

Throwing away food is also causing our global temperatures to rise. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), if food were a country it would be the third-highest greenhouse gas emitter, followed only by the United States and China.
Organic waste produces large amounts of methane, a more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to a report by the Global Methane Initiative, methane emissions account for almost 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in both Canada and Italy.

Culture of convenience

Grocery store shelves in North America are lined with fresh produce from all over the world. Canned and dehydrated options have fallen flat in preference to year-round access to fresh foods. Prepackaged, premade and readily available foods have given rise to a culture of convenience and waste. North America is the worst for food waste. Canada and the United States together throw away almost half of all the food they produce. In fact, the problem is so bad that Canada’s largest province, Ontario, recently announced a new framework to address food waste in an effort to reduce the province’s waste footprint.
Ontario’s framework includes waste-reduction targets of up to 70 percent to help cut back on organic waste. It also includes expanding organic-waste collection to more communities in order to avoid unnecessary landfill contributions and to support Second Harvest’s food expansion plan; one of its initiatives is an online service that allows businesses to register and have their excess food picked up and redistributed in their communities.
Italy is not much better when it comes to food waste, throwing away more than an individual consumer’s weight in food each and every year. The European Union reported that the cost of food waste to the EU was approximately 143 billion euros each year.

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Second Harvest is the largest food rescue organization in Canada (secondharvest.ca)

Italy’s approach to food waste

Italy has demonstrated its commitment to reducing food waste. In 2016, the country passed a law providing greater ease for companies to donate unused food, and recently, a group of Italian high school students went to the web to try and tackle food waste with a Food Waste Hackathon.The students are using technology to try to cut back on waste, developing close to a dozen different online platforms and apps designed to provide information and solutions to organic waste.
The idea of reclaiming would-be waste is the brainchild of Italian Chef Massimo Bottura who founded Food for Soul, a self-described cultural project that breaks down societal barriers through the simple act of feeding people. Chefs come together to cook in community kitchens. This past March, Food for Soul opened a space in Paris where chefs and culinary students whipped up creations for those in need of a meal.
“They found an abandoned theater in Milan and they wanted to recreate what they first conceived so they built [it] up together with artists and designers and opened a community kitchen,” according to a representative of Food for Soul. “[Bottura] invited all his friend chefs from all over the world to cook there with him. All the guests were people in need and we had a huge team of volunteers serving at the table to recreate the sense of hospitality and create as many possibilities of human contact as possible. It was supposed to be a six-month experiment but in October we found we had a wider and stronger impact and we had started a great conversation on food waste. The theater is still open and serving meals.”

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Food for Soul's refettorio, a community kitchens where guests in need are served nutritious and nourishing dishes in convivial atmospheres (foodforsoul.it)

Innovative food waste solutions

Prairie Gleaners is working to preserve would-be food waste by capturing blemished or broken produce that would otherwise not make it to market.
“Our motivation is to feed people, primarily where there are natural disasters around the world,” according to president James Smith. “We give our dehydrated food to aid organizations because getting fresh produce into refugee camps where you need food and aid in short order is next to impossible.”
Dehydrated product weight less, takes up less space and has a long shelf life, making it an ideal option to ship food to communities where it’s needed. The team at Prairie Gleaners consists of a few hundred volunteers, mostly seniors, at seven locations across Canada. They recently starting shipping dehydrated food to communities in Canada’s Arctic region. The team produces close to 50 million servings through its solar dehydration efforts and believes that food banks and developing countries can help to reduce food waste by setting up small-scale solar dehydrators.
Working with the European Union, Zero Waste Europe is advocating change in our relationship with food through a network of partnerships including communities, local leaders and businesses.
“We advocate at the EU level for waste reduction and a circular management of resources,” according to Roberta Arbinolo, communications officer with Zero Waste Europe. “We empower communities to redesign their relationship with resources.”
One of the ways they are looking to redesign our food relationship is through the product design of food packaging. Zero Waste Europe recently published a study that found a strong link between plastic packaging and food waste. As one example, they point to the fact that over one-third of green beans were wasted simply by chopping them to fit into plastic packaging.
“Everyone can play a role in reducing food waste. As consumers, we can reconsider our way of thinking and our purchasing behavior,” stated Arbinolo. “Innovative cities are exploring the regional development opportunities offered by short food-supply chains and urban agriculture, as well as providing support for sustainable diets.”

Food for everyone

In Ontario, chef Jagger Gordon has a passion for feeding people. His program, Feed It Forward — Gordon is the organization’s founder and executive chef — is addressing food insecurity in Canada through a food-rescue mission where trucks hit the streets a few times a day.
“I just see the need to feed, and I don’t understand why there is so much food being wasted and so many people struggling to eat when there is so much great food. Forty-percent of food manufactured here is destroyed before market,” said Gordon.
Feed it Foward is currently serving meals in four different locations, including London and Paris, with plans for expansion into Canada by the end of 2019.
For hungry students in Toronto, chef Gordon will be bringing meals to university campuses starting in September 2018; one initiative is building a satellite soup bar to feed two thousand students a day. He is also working on a mapping system where people anywhere in the world can get access to free food.
Feeding hungry people and diverting food waste from landfills is a pressing global issue. Climate change mitigation, poverty elimination and a more sustainable and circular global economy demand that we find a solution to the global food-waste dump.

READ MORE: Fighting food waste by RP Siegel

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.