I just read a really interesting article. In May of this year, the France National Assembly voted unanimously to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. According to the article, France pass new law forbidding food waste, large grocery stores must donate edible food to charities and allow inedible food to be used for animal feed or compost. Way to go France! Now this got me thinking. How much food is actually wasted in the world? How much food is wasted in North America (namely Canada and United States)? So, I did some internet research to find an answer to these questions.
According to the United Nations Environment Program,
- Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
- Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
- In the United States 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion, is thrown away each year.
- United Kingdom households waste an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tonnes purchased. This means that approximately 32% of all food purchased per year is not eaten.
To paraphrase from the article Food Waste Cost Canada, more than $31 billion worth of food is wasted every year in Canada, and that the total doesn’t include what’s being wasted at federal institutions like prisons, jails, hospitals and schools because there isn’t reliable data on that. If those numbers are included, along with the true cost of things like energy, water, land, labour, capital investment, infrastructure, machinery and transport, the true cost of wasted food is actually closer to $100 billion a year.
Now I don’t know about you, but I find these statistics rather disturbing. What if a law, like the one France passed, was put into place in North America or other parts of Europe? Or even better, a law not only applying to the large grocery chains, but a law that also applies to institutions such as prisons, hospitals and universities. How much of a difference would such a law make? If the edible food was sent to charities, such as food banks and soup kitchens, how many fewer people would go hungry? That got me wondering, how many people in wealthy countries like United States and Canada go hungry? So, once again, I sought to find out the answer.
According to 11 Facts About Hunger in the US by DoSomething.org, a global organization for young people and social change, 1 in 6 people in the United States face hunger. The article also says 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table. Now lets put that into perspective. That means about six times the number of people who live in New York City go hungry. That is a shocking number of people to me.
So what about Canada? Well, according to PROOF, an organization that does research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity, claims that in 2012 four million Canadians (1.5 million are children) live in households that struggle to afford the food they need. Now keep in mind that Canada’s population in 2012 was 34.75 million people. Now to put that in perspective, that is about the number of people who lived in Los Angeles, California in 2014 or that lived in Montreal, Canada in 2011. That seems like a staggering number of people to me.
I was told by a former employee at one of the grocery stores in my community that the store the former employee worked at throws out up to 50 loaves of bread a day and up to 10 cooked chickens a week, The reason, I was told, that this much bread is thrown out is because the bakery has been told to bake a certain amount of bread so that the shelves remain fully stocked even though the store’s decision makers know that they sell much less per day. As for the cooked chickens, the store’s policy is to ensure that the customer will always have cooked chickens available to purchase.
Now I know this is the teacher in me coming out, but if there was a law forcing institutions and large chain grocery stores to donate all their throw away edible foods to charitable organizations, such as food banks and soup kitchens, then I have no doubt that the number of people experiencing food insecurity would drop. The world can only become a better place to live in with such laws. So France, I applaud you for taking the lead on such a law. I sincerely hope that the remaining wealthy countries of the world will follow suit. We are human beings and human beings help one another.
I also got to thinking that it is unfair of me to just rely on governments to make change. Don’t get me wrong. They do need to make laws like the one France has passed. But, what can I do as an individual to help reduce food waste? Could I be doing more to make a difference? Curious as to how much households waste, once again I did some research. According to the The Washington Post article, How the U.S. manages to waste food, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. This can cost the average family between $1,365 to $2,275 annually. According to the Globe and Mail article, Canadians waste seven billion kilograms, the average Canadian household wastes between 500 to 750 grams of food per person a day, or about $1,500 a year. Now that is a lot of food. This is shocking! This is wrong! It reminds me of some of the lyrics from Nickelback’s song, When We Stand Together, that says,
How can we fall asleep at night?
When something’s clearly wrong
When we could feed a starving world
With what we throw away
So what does a person do about it? One of the comments regarding the article, Food waste cost Canada, the commenter indicated that he had cut back on food waste (quoted exactly as he wrote it) by
- Buying less and going to the grocery store more frequently means less spoiled food.
- Careful planning of meals and making all your own meals at home.
- Less income in the past several years makes me aware of foods value – the less money you have the less food you waste. I know that for a fact.
Now I thought this was good advice, especially now in light of the fact that I am living on a fixed income as a pensioner. Furthermore, eat your leftovers. I personally know of people who refuse to eat leftovers. They throw out their leftovers. My wife and I like leftovers as it means less cooking. We have at least one night a week where we eat just leftovers. I challenge all of you to make individual changes to lessen food waste. If each household wastes less food, then less people would go hungry. We all need to do our part! Together we can make a better world.