Can reducing food waste actually strengthen Canada’s food system?
That’s the question a new School of Public Policy is asking as it releases its latest report shining a light on how food waste affects Canada’s food supply chain.
According to the Calgary thinktank organization, recent research has shown that there is more than 40% wastage over the country’s supply chain; that is a huge proportion of lost resources between the farm and our tables.
“Canada’s food supply chain is of vital importance to all Canadians… Food supply is also subject to major disruptions, especially in this era of COVID, which has compounded the issue of food security in Canada,” the group said in a release.
“Canada’s food system has evolved under pressure to constantly produce more and do so more efficiently. However, the drive for increased productivity has also led to rising levels of food loss and waste.”
Food waste is not just a problem in Canada, it’s a global issue
In Canada, over half of the annual food supply is discarded. Wasted resources, economic costs, pollution, and growing numbers of citizens who are food insecure underline the importance of tackling this critical public policy issue.
The report states that Canada’s food system is interconnected and food loss and waste occur at every level of the supply chain.
“While there has been a general disregard for food loss and waste in the pursuit of maximizing output/economic growth, meeting market demands and keeping food prices low. COVID’s impact has shed light on the strengths and vulnerabilities of Canada’s food system. Disruptions in our supply chains garnered media attention and food security concerns became top of mind for many Canadians.”
The Leftovers Foundation interim CEO Audra Stevenson says food waste is a global problem; in fact, up to a third of food grown across the world.
“It’s not only an issue, because, you know, food is a basic human right, yet we still have people going hungry,” she says, adding the environmental side is also a concern.
“And it’s something that’s totally preventable. So, it’s a really big problem. What comes with that is that this solution has to be as equally as hard as the problem.”
“It’s not like we can just say ‘hey, stop wasting food, everybody.’”
Stevenson says change needs to start from top to bottom; on both a systematic level and an individual level.
“I really think that food waste is a symptom of our general culture of abundance,” she says, adding it comes down to a psychological mindset.
She points to the example of a bakery; consumers are more likely to purchase bread when the shelf is full. And so bakeries are then motivated to overbake so that their shelves will be full throughout the day.
“When you have that kind of psychological mindset, and then it also impacts your business and how much money you’re going to make, obviously, the motivation for people, it’s just not aligned right now to reducing food waste.”
We are generally a privileged country when it comes to food
Stevenson says the fact you can walk into any grocery store in Calgary and buy an avocado for $3 or $4 is eye-opening.
“When you really think about it, it’s wild. Not only did it cost (money) to grow it, but it costs money to transport it to get it into the grocery store,” she says, adding sometimes the avocado would just go to waste on the counter because it’s forgotten about.
“So we’re in this very privileged place right now. You can get whatever piece of food you could possibly want from any grocery store in Calgary, as long as you have the money to pay for it. And that’s just not always going to be the case.”
The pandemic has been an example of what could happen if the food chain is interrupted but on a larger scale.
“You know, there was maybe a week or three weeks where the shelves were a little bit empty…. And it freaks people out.”
How you can help!
While change needs to happen on a systematic level, Stevenson still has a couple of tips for those trying to make a difference at home.
“I think when you’re used to living in the culture of abundance of literally anything that I can think of that I need or want, if I have the money, it’s available to me. It’s a very different mindset than living in a let’s consume food seasonally, let’s only purchase what we need way.”
She says it requires a mindset shift. In some ways, those who grow their own food understand the value of it, more than some of those who purchase it from a store.
Stevenson says it’s important to purchase just what you are going to use. It might sound obvious, but Stevenson says it’s actually a skill many need to develop, and purchasing items seasonally would go a long way.
It can be cost-prohibitive but she also recommends buying local if possible.
“Purchasing local is always a really good way to be able to reduce the amount of transport that your groceries are going through. I almost call it like vote with your dollars (by voting) for the grocery stores that are reducing food waste.”