OPINION: Just Eat It!

By Juliette Guérard

“Imagine walking out of a grocery store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and just not bothering to pick it up. That’s essentially what we’re doing,” says Dana Gunders in the Canadian movie Just Eat It. The entire premise of the movie is whether a person can survive for six months solely on food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Furthermore, it validates some of the shocking statistics about food waste.

World hunger is on the rise and yet, roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted. This situation is unacceptable.

Food loss and waste (FLW) represent a misuse of the water, energy, land and other natural resources that went into producing it. Even if the issue is generally simply called “food waste”, the problem can be divided in two domains: food loss and food waste. “Food loss” refers to food lost in earlier stages of production such as harvest, storage and transportation. “Food waste” refers to items that are fit for human consumption but are thrown away, often at supermarkets or by consumers. Food can be lost or wasted in a lot of ways. First of all, fresh product that deviates from what is considered optimal in terms of shape, size and color. Secondly, food products that are close to, at, or beyond its expiration date are often discarded by retailers and consumers. Finally, large quantities of wholesome edible food are often unused or left over and discarded from household kitchens and eating establishments.

Food waste is a global issue: not only does it increase hunger in the world, but it also impacts the environment. As a matter of fact, 14% of the CO2 emissions is caused by food wasting (globally), and the blue water footprint (the consumption of surface and groundwater resources) of food wastage is about 250 cubic kilometers (km3), which is equivalent to three times the volume of Lake Geneva.

According to the United Nations, the world’s population is expected to swell from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050. As food production struggles to keep up with the rapidly growing global population, food waste is predicted to grow if we don’t do something about it.

Less food waste would lead to more efficient land use and better water resource management with positive impacts on climate change and livelihoods. There are different solutions to this problem at different scales. Firstly, we must help reduce loss in handling, storage, processing and transport: in low-income countries, the keys lie in better training for farmers and public and private investments in infrastructure. Secondly, improved technologies in refrigeration and reliable, renewable energy sources can have a significant impact. For instance, a Nigerian company called ColdHubs produces a solar-powered refrigeration system, helping to curb waste caused by disruptions in the cold chain. Furthermore, we need to educate people about the situation by increasing the consumers’ awareness about when food is still safe to eat. Also, supermarkets in industrialized nations can, and often do, donate unsold goods. In France, it is actually illegal for supermarkets to discard unused food, and they are required to set up regular donations. Finally there are already quite a few initiatives transforming leftovers into new products: turning coffee cherries into flour for example. Consumers can try to buy locally whenever possible (shorter supply chains equal fewer opportunities for loss), improve their meal planning, become informed about date labelling and only throw away food when it is truly inedible. Better yet, they can compost. Composting diverts waste from landfill and therefore reduces methane emissions.

The problem can and will be resolved with your help. That’s why La Tour organized a special event at the canteen during the Anti-food Wasting Week this year. Now on your own, there are many initiatives one could take, which include usage of the new phone application, “Too Good to Go”. The app informs you of all the fresh products that are still unsold in different supermarkets at the end of the day so you can buy them cheaper and further help to avoid food waste. Start by wasting less food at home and help spread the word: just eat it!

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