Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Food for Thought

by Lara Smallman

Forget aviation, road transport and plastic bags, the real winner when it comes to contributing to carbon emissions is food. In fact, food accounts for more than all the rest combined. Whether it’s making it, transporting it, wrapping it or wasting it, we use a shockingly high amount of energy on our food. 

This should demand our attention for two simple reasons: 

1) We’ve got tough targets to meet on reducing carbon emissions 

2) We’ve been told to expect a 2 billion increase in global population by the middle of this century. 

In other words, by 2050 we are going to have an additional two billion hungry mouths to feed. In trying to meet that challenge, we simply cannot continue with our current approach, not if we are to stand any chance of meeting carbon-cutting targets. 

We need a ‘plan B’ 

Transporting a kiwi to my local supermarket from the other side of the world in New Zealand, emits six times that kiwi’s weight in carbon emissions. I want to know what’s wrong with British or European produce. Nothing, yet almost everything I see wrapped in endless plastic (but that’s a whole other blog post) at the supermarket has a shiny sticker on it, proudly declaring that it’s been flown from far, far away lands. 

But, it’s not just the way we shop for food that needs to change, what we do with it matters to: 

In the UK, ‘the amount of edible household food waste is worth around £12bn, or around £680 a year for the average family with children’. That is money, quite literally going down the drain – or into landfill, either way; it’s wastage we can easily cut. Food wastage was cut by a modest 13% in the last three years, but we can’t attribute that to climate conscience behaviour, rather, it was driven by the economic downturn, which means an improvement in the financial climate could see waste levels rise once again. 

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And so, mindset needs to change, which is where UK-based FoodCycle comes in: ‘The idea is simple: Food retailers throw out millions of tons of edible food every year due to supply overstock’. Their aim is reduce food waste and at the same time help people affected by food poverty. 

Another group making the most out of what would otherwise be waste food are freegans. Freeganism is a concept that we are hearing more and more about. Its driving force is anti-consumerism, and freegans are best know for reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. To highlight the fact that one third of the world's food is wasted—in shops, restaurants, farms, and factories, there was a massive freegan event in central London at the end of last year. Misshapen fruit and vegetables, deemed unsuitable by supermarkets, and therefore destined for the bin, were given a new lease of life and used to cook up a feast for 5000 passers by. This wasn’t just a one off though. Just last month, Giorgio Locatelli, an Italian Michelin-starred chef cooked a three-course meal using surplus ingredients collected from local retailers, saying, "It abhors me to think of the amount of food that gets wasted every day... If I can do anything to promote awareness about the food wastage issue then I will do it.”

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