Of course, in one or another way, all of us are involved in the huge problem of food waste – that means my daughter too, to a certain extent that depends on her habits, culture and diet options. But the real dimensions of the problem, surprisingly, still remain untouched by many mainstream approaches.
According to UNEP’s and the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) report, about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. Every year, consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs. 230 million tons). In a world full of hunger, volatile food prices , and social unrest, these statistics are more than just shocking: they are environmentally, economically, even morally outrageous.
The question is, who ‘s to blame? A recent research conducted by Sainsbury‘s lays the blame on Generation Y, triggering an interesting debate in the columns of the Guardian.
Blaming UK’s 15 million tons of wasted food on Instagram & social media seems gravely partial
“In contrast to savvy older consumers familiar with post-war rationing, the study suggests, those aged 18 to 34 are preoccupied by the visual presentation of food to photograph and share on social media while failing to plan meals, buying too much and then throwing it away. Millennials – those born in or after the mid-1980s – were also the most likely to try unusual recipes to create Instagram-friendly dishes, involving exotic ingredients that are harder to reuse”.
It is definitely surprising that Instagram habits such as “food porn” managed to escape science’s attention for so long. However, the researchers’ arguments were not left unanswered by the Instagram Generation. Nell Frizzell, a young freelance journalist, apparently perfectly able to ” give leftovers more incarnations than Vishnu”, took the opportunity of striking back, on behalf of the accused: “Forget dinner photography; the real cause of food waste is a postwar, intensive farming and supermarket culture that has divorced us entirely from how food is made, grown, produced and should be eaten”. Who introduced supermarkets, 3-for-2 offers, “best before” dates and ready-made cellophane meals? Previous generations are the ones that invested on intensive farming and massive scale markets, while growing up completely alienated from the reality of (over)production, led by the mistaken belief that it would make their evenings easier, their meals quicker and their lives better. “Except, it didn’t. It simply led to a mountain of wasted food and a generation of bankrupt farmers”.
Blaming UK’s 15 million tons of wasted food on Instagram, young professionals, social media, exotic flavors and an interest in aesthetics seems gravely partial, “if not actual nonsense”. In fact, it ‘s just possible that social media ‘s fascination with food has made young people more enthusiastic about cooking and quite more interested in food processing or production costs.
As is too often the case, she argues, “what we’re actually talking about here is education and economy – not Instagram and twentysomethings”. The deciding factors of food wasting mostly have to do with income, local cultural amenities, culinary experience, shift patterns, and a little bit of interest for the environment’s future, whereas agriculture and farming intensification are the results of choices made long time ago, certainly not taking Instagram into consideration. Let us resist the temptation of blaming everything that’s wrong on “clueless, hyper-consuming, time-poor youngsters” for a change.
The problem of food waste is much more complex and complicated than it seems
The on-going debate reflects the new views and perspectives that are necessary in order to re-visit the food waste problem. However, we should never forget that the problem of food waste is much more complex and complicated than it seems.
Definitely, part of the problem is linked with consumers’ behaviour and food wastage. But unless we start from the food industry, the food life-cycles, the logistics involved and the way food is prepared, we will never be able to address the food waste problem in a reliable way. There are three major reasons that food waste management is problematic on the industrial level.
The first relates with the barriers to food waste recycling, including the limited availability of recycling facilities, transportation costs associated with long travel distances, strict internal requirements for food waste handling, liability concerns and regulatory requirements that limit the reuse of certain types of food waste. Part of those barriers concern the regulations related to food donations.
Second, food waste diversion remains a significant management and logistical challenge for retailers, which have several locations and a diverse range of products. Each department within a store has its own food diversion requirements, retailers mainly handle finished food products, which tend to be packaged. Packaged products are more suitable for donation and are often harder to recycle because most recyclers require that the packaging be removed.
Third, we need to find solutions for the restaurant sector. Options for decreasing and diverting food waste can differ significantly throughout the restaurant sector because it includes many different types of businesses—from managed-services cafeteria operations to quick-service restaurants to fine dining establishments. Companies with franchise-based business models also face challenges to centrally track food waste and institute system-wide food waste programs. Even more centralized, single-unit restaurants face difficulties dedicating scarce resources and staff time to effectively manage food waste programs.