Food insecurity is evident across the globe, in the rural villages of the global south to disadvantaged neighbourhoods of the north, it can affect anyone. Wealthy countries are notorious for removing edible food from the market (which has the potential to feed those in food poverty) and letting it go to waste. So why is it, in a world pushing to feed 7.6 billion people[1], we are continuously adding to our mountain of food waste?

Many of us don’t realise the environmental and social impacts our collective decisions to “throw out that brown banana” or “chuck those bruised vegetables” have on the world. This ‘disposable culture’ we have created, is not only the cause of numerous environmental problems, it is also using up the produce of valuable agricultural land, which has the potential to feed less wealthy nations.

Many of these countries are at a pivotal stage in their development, faced with issues of inequality, resource depletion, and rapid population growth. In both Asia and Africa, this sudden growth has led to a shift in consumption patterns, as an increase in wealth has given rise to a ‘new-found’ middle class who are now able to consume more meat and fish-based diets, henceforth increasing the global strain on livestock production. Coupled with the extra land required to produce this meat, this high protein diet requires additional agricultural land to produce crops, such as corn and soy to harvest feed for livestock, putting further strain on our already faltering food system.

Having sufficient access to healthy and affordable foodstuffs is a basic human right, so limiting meat consumption in these countries would be both unethical and immoral, especially considering that countries in the global north have consumed meat in their diets for centuries. So, what options do we have?

Fly-farming:

For most people in western countries, our relationship with insects is strained, instances of entomophobia [2] (a fear of bugs) are becoming more common, while the thought of eating insects is considered repulsive and downright wrong. The fact remains that although insects provide valuable ecosystem services, attitudes towards these species in western countries tend to be negative, so finding an individual who would consider the creatures ‘useful’ is often rare.

Fortunately, a farm in Cape Town has come up with a novel idea of using the larvae of black soldier flies to produce livestock feed. Dubbed ‘magmeal’, this environmentally beneficial and sustainable process has multiple functions; maggots provide a feed rich in protein, phosphorus and B complex vitamins [3], and have a similar amino acid profile as fishmeal [4], while simultaneously providing an environmental service through the decomposition of bio-waste [5]. To top it all off, the faeces collected from the creatures can be then put back into the agriculture system and used as compost.

“What we’ve done is just industrialize a natural food source[6]”

2In effect, by using insects in our food production systems, there is potential to decrease food insecurity at a global scale. Aside from the farming process being cheap, cost-effective and contributing a solution to issues of protein shortages [7], it also has a low requirement of land for production and what’s more, it produces very little greenhouse gas emissions. In this particular example, research has also suggested that the larvae of black soldier flies have the ability to fight against pathogens such as E. coli, alleviating instances of the infection in cattle [8].

For decades we have been using fishmeal in mass proportions to produce livestock feed, both hugely unsustainable and devastating for our oceans. In recent years, awareness of such issues has gained media attention, calling for ‘smarter fishing practices’ for ‘a more sustainable and economic future’[10]. shad_fishingSubsequently, the potential of this novel system to take the strain off our oceans and redirect energy into more sustainable agricultural practices, has been very well received. For the critics, though, in nations where insect consumption is not considered ‘the norm’, the stigma attached to insects within our food production system, would still need improvement.

“We are fishing out the ocean to feed our pigs [9]”

The sheer scale of our food waste problem has led to multiple environmental issues, from landfill, and greenhouse gas emissions to public health risks. In order to notably reduce the volume of food waste produced, modification of the food supply sector and manufacturer chain is essential, though (not yet) feasible. In the meantime, food waste could be considered an opportunity, any produce ‘unfit for human consumption’ has the potential to be redirected into livestock feed, compost or even biofuel production [11] and can change the way we view and ultimately reduce our food waste.