From the farm all the way to the table about half the food produced worldwide is wasted. In Germany, for instance, stringent food safety regulations force supermarkets, grocery stores and bakeries to discard food products that could still be safely consumed. By contrast, in Egypt most food loss occurs during production, and is caused by inefficient transportation and refrigeration.
To highlight the dynamics of food waste and loss, the 27th Cairo Climate Talks screened the German documentary “Taste the Waste”, which addresses the relationship between agricultural production, discarded food and greenhouse gas emissions. Following a panel discussion of local and foreign experts, participants were invited to sample a gourmet buffet of dishes cooked primarily from food that would have been discarded by local bakeries and restaurants.
The film, discussion and meal all aim to challenge our concept of what is considered waste and question how we can rethink our consumption patterns to reduce our carbon footprint. Though we may not think of food waste as a major contributor to global warming, cutting our food waste in half globally would reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as taking every other car off the road.
“Waste is certainly a burden for mankind; 50 percent of our food is thrown away and with it we throw away various resources such as the energy needed to produce the food,” said Christoph Retzlaff, Deputy Head of Mission of the German Embassy in Cairo, who opened the discussion. “At the same time, 1 billion people suffer from malnutrition. So we need to think about how to allocate our food more effectively on a global level.”
Panelist Aurelia Weintz works with two organizations that deal with our food behaviors: Nawaya Egypt, which works with farmers on the production side, and Slow Food Egypt, which tries to raise awareness on the consumption side. “It’s the middle class and upper class that need to be taught and reminded because those who are in dire need don’t create a lot of waste,” she said. “A lot of waste comes from the upper class, but not only. A lot is lost through bad transportation in Egypt and then it gets wasted again by rich areas so it’s a double loss. Much of the subsidized bread goes to chicken and that’s a huge problem that something made for human consumption goes for chicken feed.”
In Egypt the food that goes unsold by big supermarkets is sometimes resold to the poor, said Ezzat Naiem, who works closely with the garbage collectors of Cairo as Executive Director of the Spirit of Youth Association based in Manshiyet Nasr. His organization has been working for years on pilot programs to separate different types of waste at the source so it can be more easily recycled or reused.
Segregating at the source between organic and non organic food wastes, Naiem said, “is good for soil [composting] and good for the future as it reduces carbon and methane gas emissions. Spreading awareness on segregating practices takes time, and people need to be constantly reminded. It will take at least three years to get people to change their behavior.”
In the UK, about 7 million tons of food is thrown away in homes each year, 4 million of which could still be safely eaten, estimated Max Wakefield, an alumni of FoodCycle Bristol. FoodCycle Bristol is a hub of FoodCycle UK, which builds communities by combining volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create nutritious meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation.
Wakefield adds that another 4 million tons of food is discarded in the supply chain, due mostly to the buying power of supermarkets and the standards they dictate. “That’s both a regulatory problem, but also a problem with people just not having an understanding. They don’t know how to use leftovers well. Fifty years ago people in the UK would have been using everything because food is expensive and now they don’t have to because it’s cheaper.”
There are many options for reusing food as compost, animal feed, energy or for redistribution in some cases, but they can’t encompass all of the resources we are throwing in the bin along with our food, Wakefield said. “We’ve got to be very careful not just to think of good ways to use food waste but actually to stop wasting food,” he concluded.
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