Think about how much food you waste in a week, then think about what that number must be in a year. If you’re similar to the average Canadian, it’s probably close to 140 kilograms. Multiply that number by an estimate of how many households there are in the world. Now, try adding the amount of food that the 15 million restaurants around the world must waste. It’s a tough calculation to make, so I’ll give you a hint. That number is almost four thousand times the weight of the Empire State Building. In other words, every year the world produces around 1.4 billion tonnes of food waste.
Other than the vast amount of land that is used for all this food to sit and rot, food waste production raises many other issues such as global warming, wastage of resources and big losses in terms of money. As we began to see the consequences of food waste, we’ve begun to search for solutions. Naturally, the thought process was something like this: “In this world, we produce excessive food, which ends up getting wasted. Yet there are also people living in hunger…Why not connect the dots”. Well that’s a good question, why not give the food that would otherwise be wasted to the people in need? That’s why many food bank organizations have tried teaming up with local restaurants and grocery stores to collect their salvageable food waste. To find out more, we spoke to Sarah Watson, the Director of Community Engagement at the North York Harvest Food Bank in Toronto.
What we found out was the reality of donating excessive foods to such organizations. Although it seems like a promising solution, when you take a closer look, this idea can be quite counterintuitive.
Food waste is still waste.
As you can imagine, a lot of the food that gets thrown out is in fact edible. This is a good thing for food banks, because restaurants can send them unsold food or their extra produce. However, when it comes to grocery stores donating their unneeded food, it can get iffy. While restaurants may be donating fresh, edible food that they simply didn’t have enough customers to sell to, the reasons that grocery stores don’t sell food is often because the product is either damaged, expired, or just unwanted. This means that when grocery stores do the seemingly good deed of giving away the extra food to food banks, the majority of the time, they’re really just passing on the responsibility to dump that food to another party. The grocery stores get brownie points while the food banks get nothing of value.
“If the food isn’t good enough for the general population, how does that make it good enough for people in need?” — Sarah Watson, North York Food Bank
Free, but not for everyone
One of the two goals of donating uneaten food to poverty stricken communities is to provide them with food for free. The thing is, the process of getting the food to the food banks requires a lot of effort and at most steps, there is a cost. First, they must collect the said food from wherever they’re taking it from.
Since the donated food is mostly perishable, they not only have to provide transportation from A to B, they may also need to rent a refrigerated truck to keep the food fresh. From there, they have to store the food before they can distribute it. All in all, the cost of warehouses, refrigerators, freezers and generally waiting around for available sources of food makes for a bad system.
The right way to help
While there may be other solutions to the food waste problem, food banks still need help. According to our source from the Harvest Food Bank, the best donations you can offer to your local food bank is money or non-perishable items. The most preferable items are:
- Canned tomatoes
- Cooking oil
- Canned tuna/canned meat
The idea of sending food waste to those in need may be good in theory, but it simply isn’t a viable, long-term solution. Thanks to the eye-opening chat we had with an exec from a local food bank, we got inspired to create our own solution to the global food waste problem. We developed a solution called Food Forecasting, which you can read more about here. Do your best to reduce your food waste when you can and make an effort to give back to the less fortunate in your community. The earth and the food banks will thank you.