According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), every year one-third of the food produced in the world is wasted. In Canada, 40 percent of foodstuffs never make it to consumers’ plates, the equivalent of 183 kg of food per person.
Wastage takes place at every step of the food-supply chain, from production to processing and marketing right up to households. We are responsible, as consumers, for the biggest part of the wastage: 51 percent versus 49 percent for the other players in the chain.
More and more concrete steps are being taken by businesses and not-for-profit organizations. One notable case is Intermarché, a French supermarket chain that’s promoting “ugly” (meaning deformed) vegetables by putting them on sale. Closer to home, the Table de Concertation sur la Faim et le Développement Social de l’Outaouais (Outaouais Working Table on Hunger and Social Development) picks up farm and unsold surpluses in order to supply food banks and meals-on-wheels. Other organizations have set up Web marketing platforms where consumers can purchase food products heading past their sell-by date from their smartphones. Zéro-Gâchis in France is a good example of that approach.
Governments are also getting involved. This past July 6, the European Parliament adopted a resolution requiring member states to act so that supermarkets turn over their unsold food to charitable organizations rather than destroying it.
Besides consuming products that are getting a little old, what can we do, as consumers, to improve the situation? Above all we have to learn to manage our purchases and our fridge better. Here are some suggestions.
- Plan the week’s meals and draw up a shopping list: this way you avoid impulse buys and coming home with more food than you need.
- Look out for large sizes: though they may save you money, the amounts often exceed our needs. To avoid waste, part of what you buy can be processed with a view to keeping it for a longer term (canning, freezing).
- Do regular housekeeping and inventory of the refrigerator: check the condition of fresh products and best-before dates.
- First consume the foods that keep the shortest period of time.
- Freeze the leftovers in individual containers for lunches!
- Identify foods in the freezer with the dates on which they were frozen: be aware that the storage life of frozen foods ranges from three to six months.
- Keep leftovers in transparent containers: leftovers are less easily forgotten when we can see what’s inside the container.
- Learn to cook with leftovers: to find recipes, consult sites like Everyday Leftovers or Healthy meals made from leftovers.