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From the Farm to the Fridge

The wasteful cycles of the food supply chain

1.3 billion tons of edible parts of food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted globally every year! With simultaneous global food shortages and wasteful overproduction of crops, there needs to be reform! How does all this food go to waste and what can we do to prevent it?

Food waste occurs along the entire spectrum, on a massive industrial scale and on a smaller scale due to food control laws and inaccessibility to food that will be thrown away.

Why is all this food being wasted?

According to the May 2011 FAO report, roughly one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption, gets lost or wasted globally, which is about 1.3 billion tons per year. Food is wasted throughout the food supply chain, from the point of initial agricultural production down to final household consumption.

While in low-income countries food is mostly lost during the production-to-processing stages of the food supply chain, in industrialized countries food gets lost when production exceeds demand. Agricultural food loss is often due to safety measures taken by farmers to ensure there will be no shortage of crops in case of unforeseen weather or pest attacks. However, this precaution often leads to a surplus of crops which in the majority of cases go to waste.

Often it is purely aesthetic or physical defects of the produce that cause them to be put to waste, or sent off as animal feed instead. This focus on the physical appearance of food, regardless of quality, begins at the farm. On some farms, produce is run through a photographic sensor machine that detects whether a carrot is not orange enough, or not straight enough, and then immediately discarded into the bin. The link between quality and appearance continues at the market where people choose the most beautiful looking produce.

What can we do?

The majority of food waste happens farther down the agricultural cycle, at the point of production before it reaches the market. There needs to be an overhaul of the systems of crop production that we have in place, and this will require large scale governmental and global shifts. While actively working on these large scale changes to occur, there are other things that we can do as individuals to help lower food waste.

Shift Your Attitude

We have an obsession with fully stocked shelves and an endlessly diverse range of produce in the market. A wide range of products increases the likelihood of some of them reaching their “sell-by” date before being sold, and thereby wasted. Consumers expect store shelves to be well filled, but continually replenished supplies mean that food products close to expiry are often ignored.

According to the FAO report, “abundance and consumer attitudes lead to high food waste in industrialized countries" but "perhaps one of the most important reasons for food waste at the consumption level in rich countries is that people simply can afford to waste food.”

Dumpster Diving

The laws around dumpster diving vary between countries, and are often based on existing laws about private property and trespassing. The vagueness of some of the laws make dumpster diving an act that borders on the line between legal and illegal. In some countries, like in Canada, garbage is a public property, while in other places, like the Netherlands, it is a private property and belongs to the ‘owner’ of the trash.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide has a great video about dumpster diving in the Netherlands!

You can also check out TrashWiki which is a collaborative guide on creating value from trash, written by dumpster divers and freegans.

Creating Alternative Spaces

The creation of local community based systems for using up food that would normally go to waste can change attitudes about food. We can create local markets for products that have been labeled as ‘sub-standard'. Commercial and charity organizations could arrange for the collection, sale, or use of discarded products that are still safe for consumption.

Food Not Bombs is a global organization of autonomous groups that cook dumpstered food and serve it to the public for free.

Or you can create your own Over Datum Eetclub here, where you use expired products to cook a delicious meal for all your friends!

We need to start questioning why it is a criminal offense for an individual to take food from the trash, but it is not a criminal offense for supermarkets, restaurants, and industrial food producers to throw away massive amounts of perfectly good and edible food!

  • The politics of food waste - 

    An interview with John and Michael at the 'over datum eetclub 2' about the politics of food waste