EATING RUBBISH: THE FOOD WASTE PROBLEM AND HOW TO FIX IT
The truth about our overconsumption of industrialised food has brought stark realities to the fore. That the livestock we (eventually) eat produces more greenhouse gases than the cars we drive, and that it takes about 2,400 litres of water to produce a typical hamburger, are among the most astounding facts of this era of growing environmental awareness. But what if we don’t eat it?
Indeed, we waste almost as much food as we consume and the energy that goes into growing, storing, processing, distributing and then discarding it produces an alarming amount of CO2 – not to mention the energy used if that food is cooked. In a 2013 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, it was calculated that 54 per cent of global food wastage occurs during production, post-harvest handling and storage, and 46 per cent at the processing, distribution and consumption stages.
The carbon footprint of food produced but not eaten is estimated at 3.3 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent. As such, food wastage ranks as the third top CO2 emitter after the USA and China. The report goes on to say that “the total amount of food wastage in 2007 occupied almost 1.4 billion hectares, equal to about 28 per cent of the world’s agricultural land area” – second only to the total land area of the Russian Federation. A report in the same year by the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of food produced around the world never makes it to the plate.
It’s already clear that the carbon-heavy aspects of food production have severe effects on the atmosphere; what’s becoming clearer is the effect it has on our oceans: because sea water absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, food wastage has a direct effect on aquatic life. Consumption of carbonate ions impedes calcification of shellfish and coral; coupled with this is the raising of global ocean temperatures which, among other things, leads to widespread coral bleaching. “Bleaching slows coral growth, makes them susceptible to disease, and leads to large-scale reef die-off”, says Mission Blue, an alliance of over 180 ocean conservation groups. “A greater concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing the acidity of the global ocean, handicapping the extensive roster of marine organisms that build shells or skeletons.”
Another way that industrial farming influences the ocean is the effect that animal waste has on aquatic life. The enormous scale of industrial farming means an exorbitant amount of nitrogen from animal waste reaches our waterways and oceans, encouraging disease and destructive algal blooms. These blooms use up oxygen in the water, contributing to “dead zones” where there is not enough oxygen to support aquatic life – an example of such in the Gulf of Mexico stretched over 1,200 square kilometres during the summer of 2010. Add hormones and chemically modified feed, and the oceans suffer further.
But all is not lost. Rob Greenfield is an adventurer, environmental activist and humanitarian who created The Food Waste Fiasco, a campaign that strives to end food waste and hunger in the US. In his TEDx talk he suggests that companies have a responsibility to take care of “the triple bottom line, which is people, planet and profit”, suggesting that environmental issues caused by food waste could be resolved if we all abided by the “three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle”. (Find out more tips on how you can become part of the solution in his Food Waste Guide.)
Meanwhile, chefs worldwide are becoming an example for the hospitality industry to follow as they respond to consumer demand for guilt-free, conversation-starting cooking that places value on impact as well as taste. One person advocating the three Rs in high-end sphere is Dan Barber, who’s making waves on the culinary scene with wastED, a “community of chefs, farmers, fishermen, distributors, processors, designers and retailers…creating something delicious out of the ignored or un-coveted and inspiring new applications in our food system”. He believes that “The world’s best chefs aren’t glorifying steak and foie gras on their menus anymore, in part because those things just aren’t that interesting to cook. Instead, they’re exploring the diversity of vegetables and grains and celebrating ingredients that are unique to their place.”
Each and every one of us has the ability to mitigate these threats by choosing what food we eat and how we consume it; as representatives of the high-end travel industry, we have not only the opportunity, but also the responsibility to think more carefully about the food we serve. That’s why at PURE 2016, when we asked PUREists to make one small promise that can Change Worlds, many pledged to take steps towards reducing food wastage, as well as cooking and eating locally produced, seasonal food when possible. One person might not be able to impact the fate of the planet, but together we can create enormous positive change.
Previously a freelance journalist and editor of Africa Geographic, Anton Crone is CEO of Safarious, an online travel portal to the world’s wild places. Anton not only focuses on wildlife, he also finds himself drawn to the people he meets on his travels. He looks at journalism as a way to connect people of differing creeds and cultures, and through his writing and photography he tries to uphold the importance of the communities that live side by side with wildlife.