– by Brendan Reid, Editor –
If you have ever worked in a restaurant or watched an eating contest, you’ve likely been staggered to see how much one person can eat in a single sitting. And yet, despite all the food that is consumed on a daily basis, as much as 50% of all food produced in the United States and Canada is thrown away, sometimes by the consumer and sometimes before it even reaches the supermarket shelves. This is an alarming figure, especially in a region where there are so many food-insecure families, and even more so when you consider entire nations struggle to procure enough calories to get through each day.
When it comes down to it, food waste is a problem with three stems: misrepresentation, distribution, and aesthetic insecurity. From farms and orchards to distribution plants, produce is often rejected simply because of the way it looks. An apple picked from a tree may be perfectly edible and healthy, but if it does not look the way the perfect apple is supposed to look, it will be thrown to the ground to rot. Supermarkets have set certain standards of appearance that produce must meet, or they simply will not buy it. As consumers we cause this waste. When going through the fruit and vegetable isle, most people will buy only the most perfect looking specimens for their tables.
Expiration dates also cause unnecessary tossing of perfectly good food. Once a product has gone past its best-before date, most people will discard the food item automatically, even if it is still perfectly edible. Companies create best-before dates following an estimate of when a food item will be at its freshest, but this figure is often very inaccurate. Additionally, with the exception of fresh meat and seafood, these dates are meant to denote a “sell-by” date as opposed to a “use-by” date. Ultimately, however, the concept is welcomed because it helps move the product faster. If you throw out a container of yogurt because its best-before date was yesterday, then chances are you’ll be buying another one pretty soon. Products are inconsistent in the time they’re still fine to eat after their expiration date, but for most products it’s at least a few days, especially if they’ve been stored properly.
At the core of the food waste problem, however, is distribution. We have so much extra food, but often no reasonably priced way to get it to where it needs to be, and much that could be donated is thrown away simply that is the cheaper alternative. The donation of food does nothing for the bottom line of supermarkets, restaurants, or distribution companies. This is a fundamental flaw in the system that could be rectified with benefit programs or tax breaks for these companies.
While our food waste situation looks grim, many are fighting for reformations that will enact these ideas. Recently in France a bill was passed that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food, and forces them to donate the unsold products to charities or to be used as animal feed or compost. This is a step in the right direction, and proof that the world is beginning to see food waste for the problem that it is. We still have a long way to go in the fight against hunger, but with enough awareness and vocalization, reforms can be made, and food can find its way to the people who need it most.