‘Big Food’ at the UN table: A recipe for big waste?

‘Big Food’ at the UN table: A recipe for big waste?

Food corporations’ voluntary agreements and charitable food donations cannot sufficiently reduce food waste.

ALJAZEERA – We all know that guilty feeling when we realise we have let something go mouldy, and hastily move it from the refrigerator to the rubbish bin. We have seen food recall notices at grocery stores following manufacturing errors. It is easy to assume such mistakes and mishaps are the main causes of food waste. But food waste is not only caused by forgetful consumers and accidents in food supply chains. In fact, food systems research has shown that food waste is a core, and even profitable, feature of food systems today. But as it is so often the case with environmental hazards, the profit motive trumps preventive action, and the issue of food waste is only superficially addressed.

Industrial food systems create industrial-scale food waste. Currently, up to half of the food produced globally is never eaten, representing a whopping 8-10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. None of us wants to think that our food systems might be designed to be wasteful, especially given that the world’s resources are being depleted at an alarming rate, and that up to a quarter of our fellow humans are going hungry. The abundance of calories produced by our food systems (in the United States, up to 4,000 calories per day for each person) presents a glaring contradiction to the scarcity and hunger manufactured alongside it.

For decades, food companies have been donating their excess to charity in an effort to resolve this contradiction, but neither food waste nor hunger has been significantly decreased as a result of these efforts. Is the answer, then, just to urge companies to redistribute more surplus, and perhaps tweak their supply chain processes a little harder?

The messaging of this year’s United Nations’ Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) would suggest as much. The summit, held in New York on September 23, envisaged setting the stage for “global food systems transformation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs].”

Written by Charlie Spring, Tammara Soma, and Marie Mourad


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