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     In a world where around 1/3 of food produced is wasted, it almost seems paradoxical that hundreds of millions of individuals are living in food insecurity.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines food waste as wholesome edible material intended for human consumption that is instead discarded, degraded, or lost. However, it can also encompass the by-products of food processing, the resources that go into growing the food, and even over-nutrition in some populations. But what exactly drives the creation of food waste?

 

     To no surprise, food waste originates from a complex network of factors. With the modernization of food systems, industrialization has allowed for the overproduction of food, while general economic growth has put us in a mindset that we can “afford” to waste food. Urbanization has detached us from rural farms, creating a disconnection within the farm-to-fork path. From a cultural perspective, some countries have stronger food traditions ingrained in their culture than others, resulting in differing attitudes towards food. For example, France places a large emphasis on the communal aspect of mealtimes, but these parts of the day are often rushed or disregarded in North America. Additionally, food waste is often generated as a by-product of governmental policies. Although necessary, policies for proper food quality testing and prevention of food health hazards can lead to a large amount of food being discarded.

 

An image depicting the food supply chain from raw materials to the consumer

Image taken from: Tzounis, A., Katsoulas, N., Bartzanas, T. & Kittas, C. (2017). Internet of Things in agriculture, recent advances and future challenges. Biosystems Engineering, 164(2017), 31-48.   doi:10.1016/j.biosystemseng.2017.09.007.

 

     A finding that I personally found interesting is how less developed countries produce more food waste in the earlier parts of the Food Supply Chain (FSC), while more developed countries produce more in the latter parts. Less developed countries experience a large portion of food waste at the agriculture and food processing level, which could be ameliorated through improved agricultural infrastructure, increased technological skills and knowledge, and more efficient storage. On the other hand, more developed countries struggle with food waste at the retail and consumption level. Although this pertains to problems with governmental policies, solving the issue requires cooperation from everyone to shift to more sustainable consumption patterns and practices.

 

So what can we do on an individual level to combat this issue?

  1. Better planning: if you plan your meals ahead of time and buy the amount you need and no more, you can prevent problems with having too much food in the house that ends up spoiling.
  2. Proper storage: learn how to best store your food to extend its shelf life. By handling food effectively, you can reduce food spoilage in your household.
  3. Increased awareness: simply knowing about the issue will cause you to be more conscious of the decisions you make in relation to food. Educate your peers and let’s tackle this issue together!

To learn more, check out these articles:

 

Papargyropoulou, E., Lozano, R., Steinberger, J. K., Wright, N., & Ujang, Z. B. (2014). The food waste hierarchy as a framework for the management of food surplus and food waste. Journal of Cleaner Production, 76(1), 106–115. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.04.020

 

Thyberg, K. L., & Tonjes, D. J. (2016). Drivers of food waste and their implications for sustainable policy development. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 106(2016), 110–123. doi: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2015.11.016

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