While gearing up for World Environment Day, the theme of which is global food waste, Food Tank would like to honor Selina Juul, Danish food waste expert, as this week’s Food Hero. Selina Juul’s work with food waste in Denmark should serve as an example for the rest of the world. Food Tank recently interviewed Juul to get an inside look at her organization, the Stop Wasting Food movement (Stop Spild af Mad).
The Stop Wasting Food (SWF) movement started in 2008 and is now the largest consumer organization fighting against food waste in Denmark. What inspired you to establish your organization and how has it evolved into such a large entity five years later?
I was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1980. Back then I experienced Communism and food shortages and empty grocery stores. Food was gold, something precious.
When I came to Denmark in 1993, I was SHOCKED to see the amount of food in the stores! When I went to school, my Danish classmates would toss away their lunch packages, as if they weren’t worth anything. I asked them: ‘Why do you throw food away? You know there are people in some countries who don’t have enough food!’ But they just laughed at me.
By 2008, I was fed up with food waste. I decided to act. I created a small group on Facebook, Stop Wasting Food (Stop Spild Af Mad in Danish). The name is a call to action.
Two weeks later, we were on national media! Then, three months later the retail chain, Rema 1000, contacted me and told me they stopped offering quantity discounts in all their stores to lower food waste. All BECAUSE of us!
We have thousands of followers, as well as support from over 90 politicians, including members of parliament in Denmark and Europe. We collaborate with the European Union and United Nations. The SWF movement has become a national and international opinion-maker in the field of food waste.
According to the FAO, there are 7 billion people on this planet, of which 1 billion are starving. Yet, annually we waste 1.3 billion tons of food – or enough to feed 3 billion people. What do you think are the biggest problems contributing to this gap and how do organizations such as yours work to change this?
We must remember that there is enough food in the world. Yet billions are still starving. First of all, raising the awareness. Awareness creates action – and our surveys prove this. Secondly, understanding the problem:
1st fact: Population growth. By 2050, the Earth’s population will reach nine billion people. By then, food production must increase by 70 percent to meet demand. Today, we already produce enough food waste to feed 3 billion human beings.
2nd fact: Climate change. The increasing changes to our climate affect the world’s agriculture and thus, the production of food. Floods, droughts and other increasingly irregular climate patterns will only worsen in the future. More farmers are being forced to use Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and pesticides to ensure the survival of their harvest, which in turn affects the loss of biodiversity.
3rd fact: Increasing food prices. Food prices are compounded by the financial crisis, land grabbing, and the resulting desertification and deforestation, the world trade market structure, the global imbalance in food distribution, global and local food policy making, a lack of infrastructure and a general lack of transparency in the food production value chain from farm to fork.
NGOs like ours are raising awareness to help improve this scenario. I truly believe that we, the ordinary people, can make a big difference.
SWF’s website says your goal is for Denmark to become the country with the least food waste in the world. What are some of the things your organization is doing to help achieve this goal?
We are already achieving it! Our latest TNS Gallup survey for SWF and the Danish Agriculture & Food Council shows that within the last year, every second Dane has reduced their food waste. Our hard work is moving mountains.
Our focus is on information and tool sharing, publishing and education. In August, we are launching an educational campaign for schools in collaboration with the Danish Union of Teachers. It is important to teach children not to waste food, our surveys show they are the worst food wasters.
With thousands of volunteer supporters, including former Prime Minister, Mr. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, how do you make sure people remain committed and interested in the task of combating food waste?
We do a LOT of press work. We are basically in the media twice a week. We do a lot of campaigns, surveys, ads, events, talks, TEDx, and donate surplus food to homeless people. We do ANYTHING we can to maintain a focus on food waste.
In your TEDx talk, you mention that garbage is your personal key and power to changing the future. How do you see the individual consumer’s role in fighting the battle against hunger worldwide?
We cannot send our leftovers to starving children in developing countries. But we can contribute to less food waste and more personal action.
Let’s imagine a pile of bananas, grown and produced in a developing country, transported all the way across the globe to a Western country just to be wasted because of some silly cosmetic reason. People in the same developing country lack food. Imagine looking those hungry people in the eyes and telling them that the good bananas grown in their country are being thrown away just as fast as they arrive in the Western world.
But don’t wait for the industry, politicians or someone else to act. Take action yourself. No matter who we are, we are all consumers, we all eat, we all waste food – and we are all a part of the problem. And thus, we are also part of the solution.
Stop being a consumer zombie! YOU are in control of your grocery shopping. “Best before” does not mean “toxic after.” Learn to get more out of less. The next time you consider feeding good food to your rubbish bin, ask yourself: how many starving families would approve of your actions?
Along with your award winning 2011 cookbook, and campaigns such as the one with Rema1000, what are some of the other projects your organization engages with in order to stop food waste?
We are currently involved in Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies (FUSIONS), the world’s first and biggest alliance against food waste. FUSIONS is a four-year European project with 21 partners from 13 European countries. The project’s initial objective is to standardize the measurement of food waste. The next goal is to create a European platform of governmental and non-governmental organizations and companies from the food chain. The platform will then aim to deliver a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2020.
As a cosigner of the Joint Declaration Against Food Waste, I focus on the problem of food waste every day, seven days a week. I KNOW that our work will contribute to changing the future of food.
Remember: Do not change the world, just change yourself. And then the world will follow!