Feeding Less and Wasting More: A Student’s View on Food Waste

William Boulter, Emily Robinson, and Lindsay Weatherall are students in their second year at the Universitty of Guelph’s School of Hospitality, Food, and Tourism Management

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This past year, the three of us at Garden2Table developed our personal relationships with food. In the process of learning where our food comes from, we found there was a whole other side to food consumption that we hadn’t considered- food waste. Food waste plays more of a role in the day to day life of everyday families than one would think.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, one third of all food made for human consumption, a whopping 1.3 billion tonnes of food, is lost or thrown out.  Of this wastage, fruits and vegetables have the highest waste rates of all food at about 45%.  In developed countries, the majority of food waste occurs at the retail and consumer level.  This is because as consumers, we put way too much emphasis on physical appearance.  A prime example of this is bananas.  Everyone has thrown out bananas because they start to develop brown spots on them.  There is nothing wrong with the banana, but since it does not look perfect, we throw it out.

Currently, one in nine people or a staggering 795 million worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment.  If one-fourth of the food wasted could be saved, the world would be able to feed another 870 million people.  This far exceeds the number of undernourished people in the world.

As a student we find food waste very important. Given the fact that we are on a restrictive budget, when we throw out food we feel that we are throwing money right into the garbage.  Because of this mentality,  the three of us try to only buy what we will eat in a week and then make extra food to freeze it or re=purpose it to get more out of it later on.

Canada’s increasing amount of food waste is not only costing consumers, but it is also cutting into the country’s overall economic output. Canada has been losing up to  two percent of its entire GDP every year strictly to food waste. To put it in perspective, the food wasted is equivalent to $31 billion, which is estimated to be higher than the GDP of the world’s 29 poorest countries combined. Meanwhile, one in eight families struggle to put food on the table and there are more than 850,000 Canadians who rely on food banks for their next meal, including children.

The $31 billion figure, is sadly considered to be a severe underestimate of Canada’s food waste issue, once you factor in the energy used to produce the food that is wasted, the actual amount is closer to $107 billion annually. At the same time there is also retailing waste, farm waste and processing waste; there’s waste across the entirety of the food supply chain. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, if food waste were its own country, it would have the third-largest carbon footprint in the world, after the U.S. and China. This results from the resources used in producing, transporting, and storing food that has never even been touched, as well as the methane emissions created by food decomposing in landfills across the country.

We were all pretty shocked researching the topic- but it can’t all be doom and gloom, right? We’d like to think that (hopefully) we’re not the only ones who can agree that this is a massive nation-wide (not to mention world-wide) issue, and we want to know when and how we can make a change.

So what does all of this mean for the future of food? As the public is becoming increasingly aware of the issues surrounding food waste, the logical next step is to try to make a change in this downward spiral. In terms of eliminating food waste as a nation, the responsibility falls between three culprits; food-service establishments, grocery stores, and individual consumers.

Certain food-service establishments have found solutions towards conserving food waste in the interest of preserving their costs, and showing their efforts to concerned customers which creates advocates for their organization. Some of these efforts can include using leftover ingredients in the following day’s soups or features, using ‘unattractive’ produce for sauces, enforcing a composting and recycling system, donating unusable food to shelters, and sourcing from local suppliers.

Grocery stores have also recently started to recognize the customer’s demand for better food control. Some of the practices currently being put in place are; having a clearance shelf for produce that is going off its prime or for items slightly passed their expiry dates, displaying ‘deformed’ produce more frequently as to curb the impressions of how food ‘should’ look, setting up a donation program for food that won’t be sold, and sourcing local foods.

We can all hope that these organizations find more and more ways to do their part, however we as individuals have the largest impact on food waste, being widely unconscious consumers. In general, the way in which to better ourselves as consumers is to be educated. Understand where your food comes from, the extensive amount of resources and energy that goes into creating it, and how fortunate you are to have access to such abundance. Learning about what you bring into your homes and your bodies will help you make less wasteful purchases, and waste less of what you have purchased, as you will cherish it more. Although it’s simple enough to say you can change your whole mindset and perspective towards food, it’s much more difficult to embody, especially in one fluid motion. However, everyone is certainly capable of implementing small, concrete changes. These changes will become habits until they inevitably grow into values.

  1. Composting; is a super simple way to improve your food waste. It minimizes your garbage, avoids transporting the food waste to another location, and conveniently betters your soil quality. You can have a personal composting system by setting up a small bucket outside your backdoor to throw compostable matter into, then regularly toss it in a backyard composter.
  2. Freezing herbs, fruit, greens, and meat in clever ways; is a genius method to prolong the life of your fresh products. Freezing herbs in water or broth make great additions to dishes. Frozen fruit and greens keep well for smoothies (and hold onto their nutritional value). Freezing fresh or prepared meat is incredibly helpful for meal prepping or unexpected guests.
  3. Reinventing leftovers; avoids tossing them out of boredom, or pushing them to the back of the fridge until they go bad. Try making leftover roast turkey into a turkey-pot-pie, or an old beef roast into a heart-warming stew. Even leftover veggies can be thrown into salads, omelettes, fried rice, smoothies, casseroles, and etcetera.
  4. Eating locally; is an underappreciated superstar in the equation of minimized food waste. The waste is not so much a direct rejection of potentially consumed food, but it is a great way to appreciate your food more, and to minimize the carbon impacts of transportation and exploited external resources.

These four suggestions are excellent stepping stones to reducing your food waste footprint, and in turn minimizing waste globally.

Food waste will continue to be a pressing issue for many years to come, as the distribution of food globally is extremely disproportionate, allowing waste to be acceptable in areas that have a seemingly endless supply. In order to dramatically alter these patterns of the past, food waste must be treated as a movement, not a chore. We must change our way of thinking, question the routine, and cease to settle on doing things the ‘easy way’.

The solutions we’ve come up with are definitely important, but we want to know what the future will bring. We want people to fight back against this recklessness more actively than before. We want to see zero waste grocery stores all across the country. We want to see responsible businesses making a real difference. We want to see consumers taking a stand.



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