This article is part of Globe B.C.’s eight-part weekly series on food security in Canada. Visit this page for the rest of the series so far.
At home and at work, waste-conscious Canadians such as Debra Lawson and Diana Chard have little tolerance for letting food go bad and tossing it out.
Ms. Lawson, executive director of the Toronto food-rescue organization Second Harvest, and Ms. Chard, a Halifax registered dietitian, as well as food industry members, humanitarian and environmental organizations and even some governments, are part of a massive effort to reduce food waste. Such waste is a major threat to food security, defined by the World Health Organization as the universal access to safe and nutritious foods.
A 2013 United Nations report says 1.3 billion tonnes of food, about a third of the world’s supply, are wasted annually, costing global economies $750-billion (U.S.) and negatively impacting the environment – at a time when 1.2 billion people are living in extreme poverty.
Unlike the food industry, which largely focuses on how food waste affects the bottom line, Ms. Lawson and Ms. Chard see its impact on everyday lives in Canada – where, according to research, seven billion kilograms of food (or 40 per cent of all food produced) is lost along the “food value chain” at a cost of about $27-billion.
Ms. Lawson says Second Harvest, which picks up mostly perishable foods that would otherwise have been thrown away, helps to feed 100,000 people in Toronto every month.
Since it was founded in 1985, Second Harvest, working on donations from grocers, restaurants and other sources, has delivered more than 18 million kilograms of food to community agencies to feed the needy.
“It’s an incredible dichotomy in this city – there’s an abundance of food and so many people that need to be fed,” Ms. Lawson says. “What we do is connect the two.”
Ms. Chard says research indicates that about half of all food waste originates in households, so attacking the problem at the consumer level comes down to education and changing attitudes. She says misconceptions about food labels, such as best-before dates, mean consumers consistently throw out perfectly safe and nutritious foods. For instance, a best-before date on prepackaged food doesn’t mean it’s dangerous to eat; it simply means the food may have lost some freshness, flavour and nutritional value.
Ms. Chard says many families also tend to buy foods without a strategy, so she encourages buying only what can be used within a certain period of time, properly storing and refrigerating foods to get maximum life, and eating any leftovers.
“A lot of it is about planning, like shopping with a list so you have a purpose for everything you’re buying – and don’t buy impulsively,” she says.
To experts such as Martin Gooch, an adjunct professor at Ontario’s University of Guelphwith nearly three decades of experience in the agri-food industry, the problem of food waste goes deeper than consumer behaviour.
“We’re managing the symptoms [of food waste] relatively well, but we need to manage the determinants of food waste because it’s the system that creates it,” says Dr. Gooch, CEO of VCM International based in Oakville, Ont., and director of its division, the Value Chain Management Centre, which helps agri-food businesses become more profitable and competitive. “Food waste is a complex problem; it will not be [solved] by simple solutions.”
According to a recent report from the food-and-beverage industry advocacy group Provision Coalition, which includes Dr. Gooch’s research, 51 per cent of wasted food in Canada comes from households, and he partly blames developed countries’ “attitude of abundance and affluence.” Waste also occurs in these parts of the food chain:
Processing and packaging (18 per cent): Due to quality of the foods when they’re received, inaccurate forecasting, not refrigerating foods properly, improper handling by employees, and poor setup of machines.
Retail stores (11 per cent): inaccurate forecasting, food safety concerns, the growing popularity of ready-made food, and fluctuations in suppliers’ delivery times.
Farming (9 per cent): climate change and weather extremes, incorrect planting and harvesting, labour shortages and overproduction.Report Typo/Error
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