First recorded in 1772 the proverb ‘waste not, want not’, meaning if nothing is wasted there will always be enough, is as relevant today as any other time in history as our individual and collective mountain of waste threatens the very health of our earth and all its inhabitants .
Of particular concern is the sheer amount of food being wasted globally every single day. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in their 2013 report estimates that 32% of all food produced in the world was lost or wasted in 2009. In its summary the report highlights the many negative economic impacts of such large scale waste, pointing out that:
“Economically, they represent a wasted investment that can reduce farmers’ incomes and increase consumers’ expenses. Environmentally, food loss and waste inflict a host of impacts, including unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and inefficiently used water and land, which in turn can lead to diminished natural ecosystems and the services they provide.”
Closer to home, a recent press release from the Beehive announced the campaign against food waste which was launched in June. ‘The Love Food Hate Waste’ movement led by waste industry body WasteMINZ will partner with 59 councils in the $1million project. The aim being to educate New Zealanders on ways to reduce the amount of food households send to landfills each year. Commenting on the new initiative the Minister for the Environment the Hon Nick Smith said, “The environmental benefits of reducing food waste include lower greenhouse gas emissions from food decomposing into methane and less transport emissions, as well as benefits to water quality and biodiversity from fewer demands on our farming systems.” 
From Ground to Gut – A Wasted Journey?
Food is lost and wasted in a number of ways throughout the production journey. However before briefly unpacking some of the related issues let’s first identify what is meant by food loss and waste.
Food loss: refers to a decrease in mass (dry matter quantity) or nutritional value (quality) of food that was originally intended for human consumption. These losses are mainly caused by inefficiencies in the food supply chains, such as poor infrastructure and logistics, lack of technology, insufficient skills, knowledge and management capacity of supply chain actors and lack of access to markets. In addition, natural disasters play a role.
Food waste: refers to food appropriate for human consumption being discarded, whether or not after it is kept beyond its expiry date or left to spoil. Often this is because food has spoiled but it can be for other reasons such as oversupply due to markets, or individual consumer shopping/eating habits.
Food wastage: refers to any food lost by deterioration or discard. Thus, the term “wastage” encompasses both food loss and food waste.
Numerous reports published on food wastage point to the difference between developing and developed countries in comparison to why this wastage occurs. Simply put in developing countries most of food wastage is occurring within the early stages such as production and transportation, whereas in wealthier countries wastage takes place at the retail/consumer end with the largest percentage attributed to the average shopper and the family home.
A global research report on food loss and waste highlighted that in low-income countries the causal factors concurrent to loss and waste are primarily linked to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions, infrastructure, packaging and marketing systems.
Many smallholder farmers exist on the margins of food insecurity; accordingly any reduction in food losses could have a significant beneficial impact on their livelihoods. The report goes on to state that:
“The food supply chains in developing countries need to be strengthened by, inter alia, encouraging small farmers to organize and to diversify and upscale their production and marketing. Investments in infrastructure, transportation, food industries and packaging industries are also required. Both the public and private sectors have a role to play in achieving this.”
In reference to more industrialised countries the report points out that “the causes of food losses and waste in medium/high-income countries mainly relate to consumer behaviour as well as to a lack of coordination between different actors in the supply chain. Farmer-buyer sales agreements may contribute to quantities of farm crops being wasted. Food can be wasted due to quality standards, which reject food items not perfect in shape or appearance. At the consumer level, insufficient purchase planning and expiring ‘best-before-dates’ also cause large amounts of waste, in combination with the careless attitude of those consumers who can afford to waste food.” 
A Journey of Many Miles in a Globalised Food Market
Food miles, a term coined by the United Kingdom’s SAFE Alliance in 1994 to draw attention to the environmental and social impacts caused by the increasing distances travelled by food, is progressively being raised as an issue of concern. A briefing paper on the subject of food miles points out that, “There is a significant body of research exploring the links between food production, transport, energy use and emissions. Many studies underline the worldwide trend of increasing volumes of food being transported longer distances, with obvious consequences in increased energy use and emissions and higher vulnerability of the food-supply chain. There seems to be consensus about the link between distance travelled and the degree of food-processing – the longer the distance, the higher the level of food-processing required – implying that long-distance transport of food is responsible for additional emissions due to increased food-processing and packaging.” 
It’s sobering to realise when we carelessly waste the food we buy the energy and transport emissions used to place that food into our shopping basket is recklessly discarded also
Waste and Want The Paradox of Two Halves
By 2050 it is predicted that our global population will reach 9.5 billion people. Addressing the immense challenges associated with developing a more sustainable food system that will meet the needs of all people will require significant changes. In an article on feeding the world’s population the question was asked: “How can the world adapt to create a more sustainable and secure food system using less resources?” It is noteworthy that the paragraph immediately below this question focused on the need for a change in behaviour pointing out that, “30% to 50% of all food grown worldwide may be lost or wasted before or after it reaches the consumer. Addressing this disconnect between the food on people’s forks and its origins is crucial. What will change people’s attitudes so they value what they eat in a way that is beneficial to the entire food system?” 
It seems inconceivable that in a world where we have an estimated one billion people suffering from food insecurity we have so much food being wasted. The FAO maintains that recovering even half of that wastage would be enough to feed the world alone. 
It is heartening to know our growing global mountain of food waste is receiving significant attention world-wide with Governments, research institutions, producers, distributors, retailers and consumers becoming actively involved in tackling the problem.
Now it’s our turn in our parishes and within our own daily living patterns to get actively involved! Will you join us in making a real difference?
Every Crumb Counts
“When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” John 6; 12
Fair shares for all was the hallmark of Britain’s rationing system during World War 2. Mindful of the hardship ahead the British Government set up the Ministry of Food aimed at ensuring every Briton would receive sufficient calories to ensure good health. The campaign called upon every citizen to do their bit to help feed the nation and save precious resources. Overall the British public accepted the rationing system as a fair and equitable way of ensuring each person had enough nourishing food. Food became a precious and valued resource with Britons becoming very creative with cooking ensuring every crumb was used. In addition the Dig for Victory campaign encouraging people to grow their own veggies and fruit on any available land was highly successful.
Fast forward to 2016 and for the majority of our world’s residents food remains a scarce resource to be treasured as millions live with the grim reality of daily hunger. Conversely, wealthier countries by and large have a different relationship with food. Our supersized, two for the price of one, consumer culture has spilled over into our readily available food purchases. Cooking shows which emphasise prepared to perfection designer plated foods and our increasing disconnect between raw ingredients and packaged goods fuels our landfills with ever increasing food waste.
Yet as the text from John reminds us food is a precious treasure to be valued and shared, not carelessly discarded. As Ghandi said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Christ’s command issued to the disciples of his day to gather up the leftovers to be shared and not wasted remains a timeless act of good stewardship so very relevant for us to model daily within our own Christian journey.
For reflection and action
This video on food waste makes for essential viewing:
How much food do you waste? Click here and take the food waste quiz: https://lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz/quiz-much-money-wasting-throw-away-food/
· What steps can you personally take to reduce your food waste footprint?
· What about taking the food challenge to live within your larder for a week?
· How about your parish gather together your ideas of downsizing your food waste footprint at home and at church, and share these through our Diocesan newsletters?