Throwing away those bananas you forgot about may not seem like the most significant thing in the world, but in reality, we are constantly buying into an industry that is causing worldwide ecological and social harm when we waste our food. ECOLE is a centre focused on urban sustainability for both McGill and the wider Montreal community that holds public events frequently. Earlier this year, they held a screening of Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,a documentary narrated by the late Anthony Bourdain, which investigates this global problem. The agriculture industry is the biggest cause of deforestation, water extraction, and habitat and biodiversity loss in the world. If food waste was its own country, it would be the third biggest carbon emitter after the US and China.
It is undeniable that our attitude towards food is contributing to the destruction of our planet, but this is not just an environmental concern; in a world where 800 million people are starving, how can we possibly be throwing away 1.6 billion tonnes of food each year? We waste unimaginable amounts of food in the Western* world, with almost as much food wasted annually by the world’s wealthiest countries (222 million tonnes), as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes). Wasted! attempts to answer the question of why we waste so much produce, but more importantly, introduces some hope for the future.
Tristram Stuart, a food waste expert and campaigner who founded Feedback, a global organization fighting to change our agricultural system, explains the first step on the food recovery hierarchy: feeding people. This seems fairly simple – using food for its actual purpose – but the reality of how much edible food is lost every year is shocking. Canada alone loses $31 billion annually on wasted food, and it is estimated that this amount of food waste contributes to as much as a 10-20 per cent increase in the overall cost of food. With one in eight Canadian families struggling to feed themselves and 800,000 people visiting food banks each month, we can’t afford to allow our food prices to keep climbing; we must find a better way to distribute edible food to those who need it. At present, food is a luxury that too few can afford, enforced
by the norm of over-stocked corporations with profit-driven extortionate pricing and use-by dates that are simply there to keep their products in rotation. Fighting food insecurity, which disproportionately impacts low- income areas, is just one of a plethora of ways that we can challenge this current system.
In Montreal, volunteers at Santropol Roulant work tirelessly to provide food security to elderly, disabled, and low income Montrealers. Providing meal deliveries five days a week throughout the year, they have created an intergenerational community focused on social inclusion and increased access to healthy food. Their continued interest in reducing food waste is visible through the many collectives they run, which often concentrate on supporting local agriculture and food preservation. Midnight Kitchen, a worker and volunteer-run collective, is similarly centred around providing healthy and accessible meals for students. They provide weekly meals for those registered in the program, run a bi-weekly food bank, and organize various events to challenge profit-driven inaccessible food production and distribution.
Montreal is also a hub of community-driven redistribution programs such as La Tablée des Chefs, which has been functioning in Montreal for over 15 years, changing the way hotels and restaurants redistribute their excess food, and fuelling a community kitchen. Providing the necessary logistical assistance for successful redistribution, La Tablée des Chefs has already saved 750 tonnes of uneaten food which would have gone to a landfill. Their help proves invaluable for Moisson Montreal, Canada’s largest food bank, which currently recovers up to 365,000 kilograms of food per month, and for Welcome Hall Mission, a centre for Montrealers in need, which receives uneaten food from the private boxes at Canadiens’ games, through a partnership with the Bell Centre. All over the city, people are beginning to affect change, compelled to help both the planet and those living on it.
We waste unimaginable amounts of food in the Western* world, with almost as much food wasted annually by the world’s wealthiest countries, as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.
However, it is more complex than just food redistribution. Western* countries are exploiting other nations by appropriating natural resources, including food, at an alarming rate. Roughly 40 per cent of the world’s grains are used to feed livestock, most of which goes on to feed the wealthy, Western* world, rather than being used to feed those in need.
In areas that don’t yet have the necessary infrastructure for the quick distribution of quick food, often the excess food gets put in landfills. Landfills, where currently over 90 per cent of surplus food in the US ends up, cannot continue to be the answer. It takes 25 years for a head of lettuce to decompose whenleft in a landfill, all the while releasing the potent greenhouse gas methane. Food that cannot be redistributed should be used in waste-to-energy systems made up of anaerobic digesters to power our transportation and homes. With the US alone wasting enough food annually to power 5.5 billion electric heaters for an hour, and the desperate call to reduce our use of fossil fuels, this is another example of clean energy that may become very significant in the years to come.
Another example of sustainable food practices is composting. Intensive farming with no crop rotation means that soil is unhealthy and lacking nutrients, and so, composting as a way to dispose of inedible food should be another option. We can “give nutrients to our nutrients” and make an effort to reverse some of the damage that the agriculture industry, under capitalism, has caused our planet. With roughly 40 per cent of the earth’s land currently being used for agriculture, and 10 per cent of the world’s wilderness being destroyed in the last 20 years, we owe it to future generations to attempt to bring some life back into the earth.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that global hunger could be alleviated if just one quarter of the food wasted each year was saved. We need to take action. OLIO, a food-sharing app that connects businesses with surplus food to people nearby who can pick it up for free, works worldwide and has led to over 1.2 million portions of food being shared in over 45 countries. Montreal itself has Ubifood, which allows food vendors to sell surplus food at the end of the day for up to 80 per cent lower prices, and a similar app named Flashfood is based in Toronto. It has never been easier to become part of the food- sharing movement.
More importantly, however, we need governments to grasp the urgent nature of this issue and put legislation in place. This has already started in Europe. France legally requires all supermarkets to donate unsold food, and Italy has reduced taxes on waste for companies that donate edible food. There is no shortage of ways to move towards this shift in consumption, and no reason not to do everything we can to tackle this problem.