Our Wasteful World: The Global Problem Of Food Waste

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Features -foodwaste By Rachel Wootton
Original Image By Rachel Wootton

A few weeks ago, I got into a bit of debate with one of my housemates; long story short, I wasn’t happy they were throwing away some unopened food based purely on the best before date. Personally, I find such dates are often nonsense – food, after all, doesn’t just suddenly turn bad when the clock strikes 12:00 on the day of that computer-generated date on the packet.

Unfortunately, my lax attitude was promptly shot down in flames, ridiculed and finished with the remark “you eat mouldy bread”

Yet, such a casual disregard for food is unsurprising; in fact, its fairly commonplace. A new report, published this year, revealed that as much as half of all the food produced in the world ends up as waste every year. This figure is staggering with 2 billion metric tonnes of sustenance ending up as landfill rather than on a plate.

Much of the blame has been put at the door of supermarkets. With continuous ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ deals, ‘bumper packs’ and cheaper net prices with bigger quantities, it is unsurprising consumers end up buying too much. At the end of the day, the supermarkets don’t care what you do with the food; they just want it out of their shops with your money in their tills.

We have a moral responsibility to appreciate food as more than just a basic commodity

Indeed, they do little to educate their customers on good food practice either. ‘Best before, ‘sell-by-date’, ‘use by’, ‘display until’ – the world of food packaging is a minefield of contradictions, confusion and scaremongering.

Yet, it is consumers – and Western consumer culture – that must be hold responsible too. Obsessed with looks, we demand perfectly-curved bananas and rosy-plump tomatoes, rejecting food that isn’t cosmetically pleasing. Indeed, the report indicated up to 30% of the UK’s vegetables are rejected due to shape, size or appearance.

Of course, the developing world also contributes to this dissipation, but to no fault of their own – lack of technology, poor storage and inadequate transport some of the causes.

‘Best before, ‘sell-by-date’, ‘use by’, ‘display until’ – the world of food packaging is a minefield of contradictions, confusion and scaremongering.

Food wastage is undoubtedly a complex and multi-layered problem – nor is it one that can be fixed by individual consumers. Nonetheless, we have a moral responsibility to appreciate food as more than just a basic commodity. In a world where many are living without the basic necessities of life, those with plenty recklessly take food for granted. There is no ambiguity; food wastage an obscenity. A 21st century scandal.

09082 Food Waste A4 Posters_v1.indd
A government poster highlighting food waste

Not only that, but the water, land and energy used to produce the food also gets squandered.

The problem looks set to only get worse. With UN predictions that the world’s population is set to peak at 9.5 billion within our lifetime – meaning an extra three billion mouths to feed – the earth’s resources will find itself coming under increasing pressure and demands.

It is a social, economic and environmental challenge of the highest proportion.

Alas, if only we cared more about food waste than horse burgers…

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Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    Working part time in catering has given me a perspective of just how endemic food waste is in our society. Perfectly edible food goes in the bin if it hasn’t been sold. This is inevitable in the unpredictable nature of the business, but more distressing is the amount of waste that comes from those who’ve paid for their meal. I can state with confidence that salad is the most common non-eaten food that I’ve had to scrape off plates into the bin, but I have also had to dispose half eaten burgers, bowls of chip and even entire steaks. Living in a society where food is constantly available gives people the attitude that’s its also disposable. I believe that in most instances food waste is composted, but even if it is (somewhat) put to use, the route it takes to get there is inefficient. Human food waste was commonly used for pig feed, but this is now outlawed by the EU due to health concerns.

    There is a common perception that there is a looming global food crisis, that an ever increasing global population will be impossible to feed. When malnourishment continues exists as a problem, when there are millions of people starving, surely one already exists?

    I do think a solution would have to come largely from a change in social attitudes as well as improved efficiency in food production. During WW2 people largely accepted rationing for the cause of the “good fight”. Hopefully it won’t take another global conflict to encourage people to start eating food sensibly.

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