By Savanna Henderson, Humanitas Global
By now, most people have become cognizant of the unacceptable levels of food waste that occur on a global level. Yet, it remains a problem that doesn’t offer a single, silver-bullet solution. Food waste, food lost at end of the food chain, is an especially heinous causality because it’s rooted in and a result of retailer and consumer behavior. As consumers, we have developed bad shopping and eating habits- choosing the shiniest, shapeliest, most vividly colored and close-to-perfect piece of produce available. In response, retailers choose to stock produce that reflect those overly ambitious standards. The result is produce left on the shelves and left on the farm, unsold and uneaten.
A number of responses to food waste have emerged. Some focus on reducing overall food waste while overs find innovative ways to channel that waste into something productive. So in this blog, we wanted to take a closer look at some of most recent and compelling responses to food waste.
One solution to the amount of food waste is to turn it into energy. Biogas plants do just that by creating biogas (mostly methane, carbon dioxide, water vapor and some trace compounds) from organic materials like food scraps, animal and farm waste and by-products from food and/or beverage production. After processing to remove non-methane compounds, biogas can be used in place of natural gas. This is being done in Quebec utilizing spoiled or bad food that would have otherwise ended up in a dump.
While the ultimate goal is to reduce food waste, there is a certain amount of waste that is unavoidable. Greek yogurt (and soft cheeses), for instance, leave behind a large amount of acid whey during production. Acid whey is used by some to make beverages or is mixed into fertilizers as a nutritional supplement but ultimately, there is a lot of leftover acid whey with no one consuming it. Using this by-product that would ultimately become waste for clean energy is a great solution.
Another method of controlling food waste, at least at the market level, is to outlaw it. France wastes 7.1 million tons of food annually, with 781,000 tons wasted by stores alone. The French Senate decided to take control and voted unanimously on a law that bans supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unspoiled food. Now, instead of filling a dumpster with food, supermarkets must donate the food to charities and/or foodbanks. To be clear, this food is commonly trashed because of the best-before/ sell-by dates, not because it is actually spoiled or rotten. These dates aren’t federally regulated and instead are set by food manufacturers to ensure the best condition of the food. Confusion and misunderstandings around these dates also contribute to food waste.
There is a huge push for market and consumer acceptability of “ugly” produce – the fruit and vegetables that don’t resemble picture-perfect caricatures of what we’ve come to recognize in supermarkets. Crooked carrots, blemished potatoes, scarred apples and oddly shaped peppers contain the same nutrients and great flavor as their “beautiful” counterparts. But because of demand from supermarkets (to supply consumers with the best of the best) all of this ugly produce is being wasted. That is until initiatives and programs like Imperfectly Delicious, Hungry Harvest, End Food Waste and Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables began advocating for people everywhere to start eating and asking for more ugly produce in their grocery stores.
We recently hosted a guest blog post from Kelly Hodgins, Project Coordinator of Feeding 9 Billion that focused on how we as individuals can reduce food waste. If you missed it, be sure to go back and read!
FoPo Food Powder designers decided to tackle the issue of wasted fruits and vegetables by freeze drying and powdering the produce. Utilizing produce from farmers and retailers on its last leg or that didn’t make the aesthetics cut, these students decided to create a more shelf-stable product that could be distributed through commercial and government supported venues and programs.
Most exciting (at least to me) is Toast Ale, a beer brewed with bread ends. Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal and the charity, Feedback, are taking a huge amount of waste and channeling it back into the food chain. Along with two breweries, the team was able to create a delicious product containing roughly one slice of bread that would otherwise have been left to rot.
These responses demonstrate the role we all have in reducing food waste. Whether it’s through educating ourselves on better shopping habits or advocating for policies that support potentially wasted food being donated to those who face food insecurity, we can all take part in creating a world that truly values food and can offer global food security.