Editorial: Food waste for thought

It’s something your parents probably told you during your childhood. You didn’t finish your food — don’t you know children are starving in Africa?

According to the World Food Programme, a branch of the United Nations, 870 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat. Meanwhile, we in the developed world are scraping legions of barely touched morsels off of our plates and into the garbage.

The Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not report, established by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London, states that four billion tonnes of food are produced every year. An estimated 30 to 50 per cent of this food (or 1.2 to two billion tonnes) ends up in the trash. This isn’t a new story, but it’s one that bears retelling — and it hits close to home.

Maybe it’s because we’re so well fed that we’ve spoiled ourselves, or perhaps it’s because our consumer-driven society has made us vain when it comes to the appearance of food, but Canadians specifically waste approximately 40 per cent of all the food we produce. If you want that in a monetary figure, Statistics Canada measured it in 2010 at an estimated $27 billion in food waste each year. When we hear about increased taxes or funding cuts, just think of what an extra $27 billion per year could do for Canada’s financial situation. And these numbers pertain only to Canada’s terminal food waste — basically, what goes into landfills or composts. Not even included in the equation are certain side effects of food production, such as wasted land, energy, water and fertilizers.

Given the magnitude of the issue, it’s crucial for governments to get involved in reducing the volume of food waste, especially that which ends up in landfills. Encouragingly, B.C.’s capital is making some headway. In February, the City of Victoria will begin to implement a kitchen scraps collection and composting program for residences, with “kitchen catchers,” bins and how-to guides arriving in mid-January at households currently on the garbage-only program. The City projects that the program will keep 30 per cent of would-be garbage out of landfills, but only if people comply. Victoria restaurants will also need to get passionate about reduction and handling of food waste when fines for organic waste in regular garbage go into effect in 2015. Hopefully, the extra care required to properly dispose of compostable leftovers will spur less wasteful thinking.

On an individual level, some Victorians have taken to scavenging as a cost-effective method of food recycling. Dumpster-diving communities across the country have been gathering with the unified belief that food should not be wasted just because it has touched the inside of a trash bin. But it’s never as simple as just popping into the dumpster to see what’s for supper. Many restaurants and grocery stores will lock their dumpsters after hours to prevent scavengers from getting in — human and animal alike. And though commercial food businesses typically get charged by weight for the removal of their garbage and could benefit from dumpster divers, the social stigma and legal risk may seem too great. At least grocery stores could offer soon-to-expire products at a more discounted price instead of throwing many of these items away.

Getting enough to eat is a basic human right — one that most of us are lucky enough to have never gone without. One that many of us take for granted. Let’s make a 2013 resolution: we will be more careful about how much we take and how much we throw away.

It’s literally the least we can do.

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