During a recent session at the U.N. Climate Change Conference, food waste advocates identified solutions including education, technology, and investment to reduce food loss and waste. The conversations were organized by Food Tank in partnership with the Food4Climate Pavilion.
“As we are in this moment where we’re trying to avert a climate crisis that is upon us and thinking about how we build more equitable and inclusive food systems, we should also be thinking about how we build in opportunities for circular economies.” says Lisa Moon, President & CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network.
More than one third of food produced globally goes uneaten, according to WWF, and if food were a country, it would be the third largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
Tackling food loss and waste is “low hanging fruit,” says Bobby Chinn, a celebrity Chef, restaurateur, and television personality.
Chinn believes it’s possible to address the issue “in a more accelerated manner” than many of the other crises on the table at COP27. But with waste occurring all along the supply chain, from farms and markets to retail stores and kitchens, the panelists pointed to multiple interventions necessary to address it.
Speakers argue the public sector must step up.
“The majority of governments have no incentives, and in many ways disincentivize food donations,” Moon argues. Often, food businesses worry that they will be held accountable if they donate food that makes somebody ill, leading them to toss surplus stock. Moon wants to see more governments implement liability protections to encourage donations, keeping food out of landfills and redirecting it to those in need. Tax incentives can help encourage change as well, she says.
Food waste also belongs in governments’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), speakers argue. These national action plans outline strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to impacts of the climate crisis. but currently, just 21 countries address food loss and waste in their NDC’s, says Oliver Camp, Senior Associate for Nature Positive Actions for Healthy Diets at GAIN.
As the world looks to push for changes in the NDCs, however, it’s important not to neglect the role of local governments, says Dana Omran, Global Director Strategy and Operations for the Resilient Cities Network. She argues that cities have long left decisions around food and agriculture to national governments. But they “are the biggest consumers of food. At the same time, cities have huge issues with waste management…Cities can’t afford to not do something around food.”
The Resilient Cities Network’s new Urban Eats Campaign is working to help urban areas “connect the dots,” between issues. They are also sharing innovations and providing technical assistance to design new programs, including those that address organic waste.
But even when programs do exist on the ground, many require resources and capital to grow their impact. Desmond Alugnoa, Co-Founder of Green Africa Youth Organization, explains that in Accra, he has seen projects that “are at tipping points and could just be scaled but there aren’t enough resources.”
This is why Sara Farley believes that philanthropic institutions must be willing to embrace risk and support solutions that have the potential to grow. “Philanthropy needs to put its neck out, recruit other funders, create unexpected alliances, and really be leaders that can bear some of the risk to smooth the pathway forward for others to step in,” she says.
In the private sector Pete Pearson, Global Initiative Lead for Food Circularity at WWF, sees food retailers taking action by setting food waste reduction targets. But it won’t matter if there isn’t a culture shift taking place among employees in each individual store, he argues. “You can put all these goals that you want, you can shine these fancy banners around reduction, but it still comes down to what happens at that local level, and that’s the most difficult part.”
To see the desired shift in food business operations, information is also essential.
Keith Agoada, CEO of Producers Trust, which convenes farmers and other supply chain stakeholders, regularly hears partners say “we need data, we need accurate data at the source, and with that we can do our work.”
“Information flow is critical between farmers and businesses,” agrees Pearson, Global Initiative Lead for Food Circularity at WWF. He also believes that information is going to “unlock the profitability” that will drive transformation.
The hospitality industry can also benefit from better data. “It’s really difficult to measure food waste, and most kitchens simply don’t know how much they’re wasting,” says David Jackson, Director of Marketing and Public Affairs for Winnow. The company, which uses technology to measure and reduce food waste in professional kitchens, finds that between 5-15 percent of food goes to waste in these settings.
“Be really clear about setting yourself a target,” advises Richard Swannell, Interim CEO of WRAP, and “start measuring within your own business.”
With food prices on the rise, it is an opportune time to address waste, with many chefs more mindful than ever of what makes it onto plates and what doesn’t. “As ingredients went up in cost, ingredients became more valuable, so you had to think more creatively about how you use the whole vegetable, how you use all of the elements, the byproducts,” says Paul Newnham, Director of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 Advocacy Hub.
This is something chefs have always been trained to do, Newnham continues, but as food became cheaper, waste became more acceptable.
Particularly in the Global North, “there’s a lack of respect for food, and that’s been building in our society, particularly since the late ‘70s,” says Lasse Bruun, CEO of 50by40. “Food became not just something you need to have, but something you can have in abundance.”
Now chefs are returning to the original mindset, Newnham says, placing more value on their ingredients again and embracing the idea that “any bit of food is money.”
The speakers also encourage everyone to frame food waste reduction efforts as not just an obligation, but an opportunity. In the kitchen, “Food waste is a lack of imagination,” Newnham says.
Chefs have the ability and expertise to take what some might view as scraps and turn it into a dish. “They are the experts as it relates to making things taste good so we have to turn to them for knowledge and guidance,” says Earlene Cruz, Founder and Director of Kitchen Connection.
Cruz, whose organization helps eaters contribute to a better food system, also advocates for better education to engage consumers and help meet them where they are.
Raphael Podselver, Director of UN Affairs for ProVeg International agrees, stating “education, personal experience with food is very, very important.”
With the many solutions available and economic and environmental benefits to be gained, Megan Moriwaka, Global Director of Sustainability, Iberostar Group says that food loss and waste represent an important opportunity.
And, she adds, if the world can’t address it effectively, it doesn’t bode well for solving the more complex challenges that are driving the climate crisis. “Food waste is one of the very few topics that you can get everyone to say there’s a win-win-win if we can solve this.”
Watch the full conversations by clicking HERE.
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