Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thoughts for Food

Summer, its days fading quickly, has been generous and kind this year. Sunshine aplenty, but without the scorching heat predicted to become a regular feature of climate change.

Gardens have done well, despite slightly less summer rain. Our vegetable patch is the best in several years. I’ve never seen apple trees in the region with so much fruit. A couple of trees I pass regularly have branches broken by the weight of the fruit.

Late summer is a time of year when there seems to be enough fresh food to feed the entire world, and then some. Unfortunately, that is far from true. The World Resources Institute estimates that by 2050 the world will need 70 per cent more food than is produced today to feed an estimated population of 9.6 billion people, 2.2 billion more than now.

Simply producing more is not a solution. Creating pasture land for grazing animals is eliminating millions of hectares of forests, which is dangerous to world survival. There is only so much land on earth and we already are seeing the dangers of messing with it.

There has been talk, accompanied by some alarm, about world food shortages eventually forcing us to farm insects for food.

One answer to food shortages is to slow population growth. That is happening but not fast enough. World population is expected to grow by only 50 per cent in this century, compared with an incredible 400 per cent in the last. Still, that’s hundreds of millions of more mouths to feed over the coming years.

One positive approach to a food crisis is lifestyle change. Our society consumes and wastes too much of everything, including food. We waste one-third of the food we produce: 1.6 billion tonnes a year, valued at $1 trillion.  Those figures come from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

An accompanying problem is that food waste gets tossed into landfills where it produces methane emissions. These add to the world’s greenhouse gas and climate change problems.

No one deliberately sets out to waste food. It happens. Suppliers and growers guess wrong on what will be needed. It happens to consumers as well. We’ve all planned a dinner or a party and ended up throwing out food for a variety of reasons.

Then there are the psychological traps that trick us into buying too much. Sellers want us to buy more and try to entice us with promotions, incentives and special offers that get us to buy things we might not need. One example is the quantity discount where you buy two items and get a third for free. In many cases you don’t need the third, but can’t pass up the deal.

An avoidable factor in food waste is our expectations. We have been lured into the mindset of wanting fruits, veggies and other foodstuffs that will win beauty contests. We have no use for the marred or the malformed. Bruised apples or blackening bananas are ugly ducklings that don’t get taken home.

Fortunately there are a growing number of initiatives aimed at reducing food waste. Denmark, for instance, has become a world leader with numerous initiatives that have reduced its food waste by 25 per cent in the last five years.

A food waste supermarket in Copenhagen has been so successful that a second is scheduled to open next year. It sells food that regular supermarkets plan to discard because of overdue ‘best before’ dates, damaged packaging or incorrect labelling.

You can read more about Denmark’s campaign against food waste at:

In San Francisco, a subscription service named Imperfect Produce buys ‘wonky’ produce from farms that will discard it because it does not conform to  industry standards of perfection. It delivers boxes of it at reduced prices.

Here at home Loblaws has launched the Naturally Imperfect program selling ugly duckling produce at cheaper prices.

These initiatives are doing more than working against food waste, or providing food at lower cost. Most importantly they are helping to change attitudes about things that appear less than perfect, and about what we really need.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said: "The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed."


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