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Our global food and nutrition system is on feet of clay and many people no longer relate to what they consume on a daily basis. The problems that arise from the distance between production and consumption are seemingly latent, but we all have a daily influence on their extent and can make a difference.
This article is all about a sad topic - food waste. We look at the causes and consequences of this immense waste, especially in industrialized countries, and what possible solutions might be. Let's start with some facts and figures describing the problem before turning to possible solutions.
Overall, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 30% of the food produced worldwide does not reach where it is needed. That's 1.3 billion tons to be exact. Every second, six garbage trucks full of still edible food are lost; or in other words, a social, ecological and economic value of 2.25 trillion euros. This could feed 3 billion people, almost three times as many as are currently suffering from malnutrition.
The reasons for and factors influencing this immense waste are very diverse. On the one hand, the infrastructure in producing countries in the tropics is poorly developed, which is why local farmers often have to travel long distances to local sales outlets. In combination with constantly changing storage conditions, this leads to the goods spoiling on the way or not arriving fresh at the local market. On the other hand, especially smaller villages away from any roads often do not even have the possibility to reach these markets. However, we consumers are responsible for most of the food waste - through our careless and wasteful handling of food.
If the food industry, from agriculture to processing, were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 emitter in the world after the US and China. Agriculture alone is responsible for 23% of global greenhouse gases and only the production of food wasted by consumers (see above) causes 14% of global CO2 emissions.
On the one hand, the global North relies on food and products from overseas, which are then lacking there locally or in competition with growing vital food. This chart from FAO (2011) illustrates this global divergence very clearly.
It is not just the global balance, nature or other factors that suffer. It is also an economic problem for each individual. The ills of the food system are not only one of the biggest drivers of climate change, but are also the biggest contributor to serious health problems. According to a recent study, €235 worth of food per person in Germany goes to waste.
With 45% loss, fruits and vegetables are the most affected. 10-20% are already sorted out before the sales, because they do not correspond to the strict optical criteria of the wholesale markets. With approx. 30% the consumers do not use everything, do not buy suitably or misinterpret minimum durability dates. This alone causes the annual waste of still edible food in Germany to be around 10 million tons.
That was a lot of facts and figures - so take a breath.
Why is all this happening? Is it because society is losing emotional contact with its food? Is there a lack of desire for taste or even awareness of it? Or is there even a complete lack of taste, because vegetables can no longer develop their flavor in industrial overbreeding the way they once did?
Ultimately, we as consumers of the global north must individually go into ourselves and ask ourselves what the problem is. What does the situation mean for each and every one of us? Who can do something and how? Where can we make concrete changes in our lifestyle to contribute to the solution? The following part of the text is meant to give some impulses on a generic level.
Science agrees that there is no one miracle cure that can fix everything. In addition, both the understandable drive to maximize profits on the producer side of the supply chain and the maximization of well-being on the consumer side ensure that losses cannot be completely avoided. However, many small steps from different sectors and especially at the local level can play their part in curbing avoidable losses and raising awareness among individual stakeholders. What is needed is to reduce food waste by at least 50% by 2030 so that the system can continue to function - this is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 12(.3).
A key step is nutrition. According to several studies, the goals can be achieved by conscious consumption of about 40%-50% vegetable-based meals. By 2050, this would have to be 75%. Vegetables take such a central role because they contain more nutrients and vitamins than fruits (e.g. the potato has more vitamin C than an apple) and can be grown in almost every populated region of the world, in one form or another in living mixed cultures. This results in the optimal global diet plan as schematically illustrated here.
But optimal nutrition is just a consequence of many other activities. Therefore, the Food & Landuse Coaliton (FOLU) in its last major report has set up a 10 point plan, which shows abstracted global solutions - with healthy and environmentally conscious nutrition as the crowning point. The lower levels can be achieved very easily and efficiently. If every society in the world manages to make conscious and healthy consumption decisions, initial progress can be achieved quickly, according to the authors. The industrialized countries in particular are called upon to act first, before other countries must follow suit.
This pyramid relies heavily on the power of consumers. Even when individuals make small changes, their mass alone creates immense economies of scale. The developed industrial nations of the OECD alone already account for one seventh of the world's current population, with an above-average share of global consumption. This means that the last links in the global food supply chain have a major impact on the industries involved in food production and, in particular, on nature. Regenerative and local agriculture, for example, would suddenly no longer be an immense risk if most people would cook and eat seasonally according to their region of life or their own cultivation. It is therefore important to go back to the roots of the sedentary society and start to find a balance between global lifestyle and safe, local food with the most modern means. Growing food locally in an environmentally friendly way - especially in urban areas - helps many to become more self-sufficient and also reduces the dependency of society as a whole on supra-regional supplies. Especially in times like these, and after an Easter that is often spent in a different way than usual, shared gardening can lead back to almost lost knowledge and a renewed, inspiring connection to nature.
One possible solution: a field-to-fork or farm-to-table approach to nutrition that is as close as possible to the producer:
It may be something you have only heard before, either on TV or on social media but do you actually know what it is and why it became one of the most popular trends in cities like NY where only a few restaurants who are practicing Farm-to-Table are sold out for months to come.
Farm to table or farm to fork as it was also referred to started back in the 60’s and 70’s on the west coast of USA. First ever restaurant to start this trend was in Berkeley, California in 1971. Original idea of the Chef was to utilize as many locally grown produce because those products are fresh and flavorful. Movement was steadily sustaining itself up until early 2000’s when we see the first real ‘explosion’ of farm to table restaurants throughout the entire USA.
Unfortunately, many restaurants have just used the movement to market themselves without really supplying their ingredients from the local farm(s). Even though the movement is still steadily growing, and more and more restaurants are offering at least some of the items from the local farms, not that many are following the original purpose of this movement. How does GROME fit into this movement? There are a few reasons why the movement is not doing so well in the ‘restaurant’ environment, some of them are:
In order to better this movement and really bring it back to what it was meant to do (support sustainable, local, small farms that offer produce that is actually good for us) we need to use the movement as a promotional tool rather as a mass money making scheme. Farm to table in this sense means that people ought to come directly to farm where produce is grown where a chef will then prepare variety of dishes only using items at the farm. Dishes are meant to be relatively simple offering as much of flavor as possible without much alteration. By doing these ‘one-time events’ under the name of farm to table movement we will invite more and more people to reach out to the local farms in order to supply their fresh produce needs. This will then turn into what it was always meant to be, movement away from the mass produce food back to the roots and small-scale farming.
GROME is deeply connected to this movement and everything we are trying to achieve is going hand in hand with the idea of farm to table. We want to be on the forefront of sustainable, yearlong small-scale farming and gardening. As we are entering the fall GROME is preparing for a few workshop events that will ease us into a fall and give us something to look forward in the spring! ☺