Joshua Keil is a dietetic intern with a B.Sc. in Human Nutrition.
He is currently working in Moose Factory, and specializes in food security issues.

A report from the Institution of mechanical engineers in the U.K, revealed that globally up to 50 per cent of food goes to waste. According to the report, 4 billion metric tonnes of food are produced each year, but 1.2-2.0 million tonnes are lost. Poor harvesting practices, storage and distribution issues, and consumer waste are cited as the top waste culprits. With the global population set to spike at 9.5 billion people in 2075, food production has traditionally been seen as a limiting factor in feeding a record number of mouths. If this report is accurate, ensuring everyone is fed will be less about increasing production, and more about tightening distribution.

Where and how waste occurs is not uniform across the globe. In developing countries, such as those in sub-saharan Africa or South East Asia, waste tends to occur during or just after harvesting. This is usually due to poor infrastructure, inefficient harvesting, and inappropriate handling and storage.

Whereas in more developed countries such as Canada or the U.K, waste is found further up the supply chain. Household waste as a result of the “supermarket culture”, where people tend to buy in bulk, is the main reason for food waste. Supermarkets tend to encourage these kind of purchasing habits by offering discounts for buying in bulk, such as 2 for 1 deals. While everyone appreciates a sale, buying in excess leads to households in developed countries throwing out 30-50% of store bought food. Another side of food waste occurs behind closed doors. Supermarkets will reject entire shipments of perfectly fit to consume food, if they are deemed not up to customer standards for appearance and size. The report suggests that up to 30% of produce in the U.K is not harvested because of aesthetic reasons. These number are absolutely staggering, and this level of waste takes a toll on the planet.

There is no doubt that mainstream agricultural practice is hard on the earth. We constantly hear about water shortages, soil erosion, global warming, and encroachment of farm land on to sensitive ecosystems. Wasted alongside that food is 550 million cubic metres of water, large tracts of land, and huge amounts of energy from chemical fertilizer and pesticides.These reasons make it so hard to accept that up to half of total food production goes to waste.

There is a major benefit for people to reduce their amount of food waste. If up to 50% of food is thrown out at the household level, think about how much you could save each month on the grocery bill! However, it is easy to forget what we have in the refrigerator, or not use fresh produce in time, and sometimes we like to bulk buy because we don’t want to go to the grocery store everyday.

When I read that 30% of food wasn’t harvesting because of supermarket standards I wasn’t too surprised. When I worked on an organic vegetable farm for a couple of summers, my employer told to leave anything that didn’t look “normal”. I felt bad throwing away the freaky carrots that just happened to grow up with three prongs or linked in a lovers embrace with another carrot, but people tend to stay clear of asymmetry.

The good thing is there are things you can do to reduce your food waste. Ideas include:

– Purchase food in small quantities. Food will likely be fresher this way too!
– Grow your own food. Starting a garden allows you to pick food when you are ready to eat.
– Buy frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. It tends to be cheaper, and is nutritionally equal to fresh. Just be sure to give canned a rinse.
– Buy from your local farmer. This cuts out waste associated with hauling food long distances. And you might be able to get some freaky carrots!

These are just a few ideas, I’m sure there are many more out there. So please share!

Josh Keil