“Up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed by people.”  (Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations)

Food hunger is an urgent issue in the world especially in Africa, Latin America and other undeveloped regions, yet a key point is, the world is producing more than enough food. A data about this issue from Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO) shows more than one third of food is not been eaten. That’s an amazing truth.

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Per capita food losses and waste, at consumption and pre-consumptions stages, in different regions ( from FAO)

Nowadays, consumers are less connected to the field and care less about where food comes from, how food comes from farm to table, including the losses in the process.

Generally, retail and consumer stages are regarded as the most serious parts of food waste. However, the truth is beyond that.

Now, let’s follow the food chain from farm to table, maybe you will find something more amazing about food waste. That’s the food waste chain.

Step 1: Farm

Food waste starts from the farm, the beginning of food chain.

Sometimes it is accidental, for example, climate change makes the farmers can’t harvest in time, or hailstones destroy the fruits. But a large number of loss is intentional. To our surprise, as consumers, maybe we should be responsible for it to some extent. Why?

First, the buyers always over-emphasize appearance because consumers prefer to buy food which looks “better”. They don’t like food which looks ugly or with a scar.

Second, wrong size food is not popular for the buyers, they prefer to buy food with a standard size, fit for the box or shelf in supermarket, or easy to package and fix a unified price. Maybe for consumers, that’s more convenient to pick up and take home.

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food with similar size. Photo by author

As a result, while “lucky” foods are loaded onto trucks, other foods which do not meet the standards are left and wasted in the farm or used for processed food.

Step 2: Transportation

Food losses happen at the stage of transportation and procession.

Globalization promotes the food export and import. In Tesco, it’s easy to find fruits and vegetables imported from Spain, Poland, even Peru and China. Long distance makes food wasted on the truck and train, as well as storage, because food like bananas and avocado tend to be rape, soft, even rot on the way, making a food loss.

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Fruits imported from Morocco. Photo by author

Step 3: Market

Food waste is serious in both local market and supermarket.

First, as mentioned in the first step, consumers prefer to choose good-look food.

Once I went to a local market, I saw some vegetables which look “ugly”, with wrong size, strange shape, and scar. Farmers called them “ugly food” with a humor, but they also claimed, “don’t abandon ugly food”.

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Consumers were choosing apples in a market. Photo by author

As far as I know, consumers are more interested in vegetables and fruits which look more “beautiful”, then, what happen to the ugly food? Being wasted.

Second, it refers to the use of “best before” date. On one hand, a label can remind and inform consumers the “best before” date of the food. On the other hand, people don’t want to buy food close to the “best before” date, although they are still safe and good.

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Milk with label in supermarket. Photo by author

Step 4: Kitchen

In the kitchen, food not used in time leads to food waste, which happens quite commonly in daily life.

Sometimes, people don’t want to go to market or frequently, due to busy or lazy. Or consumers may get a discount if we buy double or more. Nevertheless, there is a large refrigerator in the kitchen, which can contain plenty of food.

However, people may loss interests on cooking or just too busy to stay in the kitchen. Then some food are left and forgotten in the corner.  Anyway, the result is food waste.

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Moldy cheese in the freezer in our flat. Photo by author

Step 5: Table

Personal habit and table culture are two key points leading to food waste.

Too much food cooked or served leads to food waste. A common phenomenon is  people throw away yesterday’s leftovers. Another situation is due to personal food habit. For instance, people don’t like this kind of food.

Additionally, Culture is also an important factor. some food are biologically inedible while some food are cultural inedible for a certain group. And in some regions, people are used to order more food when eating out together with friends, of course producing waste.

Conclusion

Food waste is an important issue related to food justice. what is also a worth noticing point is that food waste could produce carbon footprint, so it’s not just a problem of food waste. As FAO indicated, the contribution of global food wastage emissions to global warming is almost equivalent (87%) to global road transport emissions.

Maybe it is not so easy to be a zero food waster, because as consumers, at least, we have to consider nutrition balance and the food flavor, it seems impractical to get all food from farm directly. Fortunately, there are still Some tips we can practice to avoid food waste in daily life:

  • Buy less food every time
  • Cook less food every time
  • Order less food outside
  • Pack leftovers at the table
  • Buy local food
  • Preserve food, like pickling and canning
  • Make use of leftovers unable to fill a plate
  • Check the refrigerator on time
  • Identify edible food properly
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Leftovers incorporated into fried rice and pasta. Photo by author

 

Reducing global hunger issue can not just rely on increasing food yields, food waste control is also necessary.  From now on, have a think about the food waste chain from farm to table, pay attention to each step, and act to avoid food waste.