The sickening irony that people are starving world-over while simultaneously 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted yearly, is something I struggle to accept.
According to the FAO, 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted each year - over 30 million tons is wasted in the U.S. alone. And yet, globally, 12% of the world's population is undernourished - half of all deaths in children under 5 are a result of undernutrition.
The first time I saw a starving child was in 2014 while working for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Cameroon. The conflict in the Central African Republic had forced civilians to flee their homes and risk making the incredibly long and arduous journey to the border of Cameroon, often going days at a time with no food or water. The level of mal-nourishment of those who survived the journey was unlike anything I had ever witnessed.
My colleagues showed me that one of the initial ways to identify a child’s level of malnutrition is the size of their wrist. I cannot put into words the feeling of the first time I held one of these tiny wristbands in my hand, and the harrowing contrast between its size and my own palm. It’s of course obvious that undernourished children are at a greater risk of dying from otherwise easily-treatable infections. What hope is there for mankind, if we can’t feed our future?
For me, food waste is one of the great shames of humanity. To quote Pope Francis:
"Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry."
But what does it take to combat this? I believe a mixture of education, government intervention, and above all, cultural change. Progress is indeed being made – from lobby groups campaigning for supermarkets to clean up their act, to the growing number of charities and projects with a food waste focus. Even some restaurants to my delight are charging customers who leave a certain amount of food. There’s also a huge amount of scientific research being conducted to find more efficient solutions for putting food waste to use – such as converting it into Biofuel.
The combination of these initiatives is sure to create systemic change – but to make it last, we need to work on changing consumers' psychological perception of ‘standards’ when it comes to the ‘perfect’ appearance of fruit, and, indeed, the negative perception of eating leftovers.
We need to make ‘normal food’ the norm.
Awareness-raising campaigns such as #ShareTheMeal or #RecipeforDisaster are some of the many social media initiatives aiming to engage the general public on this issue. Both are projects of the WFP and deal with both ends of the spectrum: Share the Meal encourages people to photograph their food via the app Camera Giving which automatically donates towards WFP’s goal of achieving ‘zero hunger’; and #RecipeforDisaster encourages people to photograph those dishes they have created with food that would otherwise be wasted.
I passionately believe that reducing food waste is crucial to achieving a sustainable food system. And, thankfully, many countries are working up to this. For example, the UK is bursting with the key fighters in the battle against food waste, including but in no way limited to –
- The Real Junk Food Project – Founder Adam Smith is a pioneer in this space and has established a global network of Pay As You Feel concepts aiming to abolish surplus food.
- FoodCycle - volunteers who cook up food that would otherwise be wasted to a range of people in need - from those living alone, or on low-income to those experiencing housing problems or homelessness.
- Refettorio Felix – visit the brainchild of Michelen Star Chef Massimo Bottura. They provide a lunchtime food service to vulnerable members of the local community creating delicious three-course meals from surplus ingredients that would otherwise be wasted.
- Love Health Hate Waste - selling health products that are past their BBD or in lightly damaged packaging at 90% off their RRP;
- The Karma App – created in Sweden, this is a food rescue app that enables you to buy meals from local restaurants for ½ price at the end of the day.
And at home? Why not freeze bread, two slices at a time – perfect for a quick toast fix. Or freeze your fruit for smoothies? You can also use yogurt or butter that is about to go rancid in cakes or cookies – or to make cheese sauce! Explore the Reduced Section of your local supermarket and learn to love your leftovers. And above all, be sure to embrace the natural forms of ‘imperfect’ fruits and veggies. For more great ideas, check out - Say No to Food Waste.
And if you do have any surplus food, there are lots of places all over the UK where you can donate it – from supermarkets to Food Banks, there are so many fun ways to get involved and be an active member of your community. The Trussell Trust has a brilliant website full of information on how to get involved in Food Banks, where to volunteer etc.
And if you’re not from the UK? I’m sure just by Googling ‘food bank’ or ‘reduce food waste’ you’ll discover inspirational places you never knew existed. 😊