Food for Thought
Before I was so aware of environmental issues, my family visited our extended family overseas for a few weeks. On the first evening, a large meal was provided by my uncle to cater for eight or so people. On the second evening, a buffet-style meal was provided – and included the few leftovers from the first evening. As the week went on I remember wishing that someone would eat the single broccoli floret that we’d seen reappear several times! My uncle’s approach to waste was not an indication of his current economic status, but seemingly was a value he carried from his upbringing in a low-income family in the UK during the days of rationing. Affluence so often brings with it over-consumption and this leads to waste – often of completely usable commodities, including food.
This week in Conversation Period, I spoke with Year 9 about food waste and their responsibilities regarding their own habits and those of their families. It is shocking to learn that a fifth of the average Australian family’s grocery purchases are binned, destined for landfill. Reasons for this include over-purchasing, busy lifestyles and over-catering. Having over-stocked cupboards and refrigerators means that we often lose track of food that is reaching its use-by-date.
Globally, it is estimated that a third of all edible food is simply thrown away – and that the equivalent of this wasted food could feed the world’s hungry. Zero Hunger is Goal #2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Australia is not without hungry people and thanks to donations to food banks and organisations such as OzHarvest, some of Australia’s unwanted, edible food is redistributed to those for whom a varied diet and full fridge are not an option.
Food waste is also an environmental disaster. Irrigation of crops and water for livestock requires vast amounts of water and an area of land bigger than China is used to grow food that is never eaten. If food waste was a country, it would win the bronze medal for carbon emissions (behind China and the USA), due to the energy required to get food from the farm to the bin: farm machinery burns masses of fuel; the manufacture of packaging requires both materials and energy; fuel is used in the transport from farms/factories to supermarkets; electricity is used to refrigerate or freeze food; and when food is imported from distant lands, the carbon footprint is even bigger.
Responsible Consumption and Production is Goal #12 of the UN Sustainability Goals: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. As individuals and families we need to look at our personal relationship with food purchasing in order to reduce our contribution to this waste problem. With financial solvency, true hunger is not a typical state of being and when the supermarkets are stocked with an array of tempting options, overbuying is easy to do. Although diligently composting food waste is a better option than putting it in the bin, many foods cannot be composted and it is not environmentally sound to compost food that should have been eaten!
Meal-planning and sticking to a shopping list is shown to reduce food waste by buying only what is needed and avoiding impulse buys. Getting creative in the kitchen with leftovers and odd bits and pieces is also a great way to reduce food waste – check out these “wasty recipes” from OzHarvest for inspiration. If you find that you have too much of something, consider contacting friends or family via phone or social media to see if they can take it off your hands.
Mrs Elizabeth Cranfield