Food for Thought 

Highlighting the role of food waste as the driver of climate change, the latest UN report serves up mind-boggling details of the amounts of food wasted across the world 

Had dinner? How much of it did you waste? Cooked more than needed? How much went stale and ended up in the bin?

These are questions all of us should ask ourselves daily. More than one billion metric tonnes of food are wasted across the world each day, while nearly 800 million people go hungry, a new United Nations report says.
People across the world, be it households, restaurants, or those in the food service and retail sectors, ended up wasting 1.05 billion metric tonnes of food in 2022. These shocking statistics were published recently in the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Food Waste Index Report 2024.
Since the problem is man-made, the solution also lies with us. How do we minimise this damage, especially when there are millions going hungry?
Mind the Gap
Food researcher and filmmaker Ruchi Shrivastava feels food waste is a recurring problem, and the gap between what is produced and what is consumed has widened.
“The unfortunate part is that the more food we waste, the more the natural and human resources that go into producing food are wasted. In addition, the unprocessed waste food rots and generates methane, increasing the greenhouse gases in the environment,” she says.
She underlines the need for a strong public-private partnership to navigate this grave situation. “Unless the government, civil society, people involved in the hospitality and food business, and various social media and conventional media platforms don’t make a conscious effort to promote ways to curb excess food waste, this is going to be tough,” she warns.
Lip service
Ruchi says that while there have been several conclaves, policy discussions, and conferences highlighting food waste issues, they were mainly lip service; very little has been done to mitigate the situation. “We live in the world of social media; using it as an important tool to spread information under the guise of entertainment could help people understand the value of food and the harmful impact of food waste on the environment,” suggests Ruchi.
Public-private partnership
Talking specifically about India, she says there have been frequent reports of farmers throwing their produce on the roads to highlight their woes relating to the basic MSP (minimum support price) and their inability to cover costs. “Issues like this shouldn’t arise at all; there has to be a very strong public-private partnership where all the food that is getting wasted needs to be absorbed in the food chain,” she says.
One simple thing that citizens’ groups can do is fund basic refrigerators in a few public places in each suburb where people can place unused food, which the needy can avail of, she says.
Curbing waste
“Most restaurants in hotels have a policy of not reheating food, and whatever is left over after banquets or restaurant service is thrown away. Curbing this level of waste is very important,” she points out.
While hotels may not be able to handle food distribution to the needy on their own, partnering with an agency that does this or an NGO is the way forward, she says, adding the corollary that since cooked food is highly perishable, the agencies must undertake speedy delivery to beneficiaries. Similarly, food stores and frozen meat and vegetable chains need to make a conscious effort to use every bit of produce, from top to bottom, nose to tail.
“If we change our habits, the planet will live longer and its inhabitants will have food on their plates,” sums up the food researcher.

Smart Menus
Shankar Krishnamurthy, restaurateur, Fusion Hospitality, insists that offering smart menus that require minimal cooking is one of the solutions. “This ensures that cooked food is not wasted. Also, restaurants need to reduce the portion size and the price of the food items. It will be a win-win for them and their clients too,” he says adding, he does live cooking formats for large catering gigs. “Running institutional catering, we have our projections very well mapped, waste is tracked constantly, and menus are revised. In the case of leftover food, subject to checks and balances, food is given to agencies like the Robinhood Army to distribute to the hungry,” says the chef. Another important aspect is to indicate calorie content and provide advice on consumption. “Constant awareness of the amounts cooked and consumed is important.
People get very conscious and take only what they can eat, and this reduces plate waste,” adds Shankar.
l What the UN report says: Besides the 1.05 billion metric tonnes of food wasted in 2022, almost 13 percent of the world’s food is lost as it makes its journey from farm to dining table. Food waste not only fuels climate change but may be exacerbated by it.
l The report also distinguished between food loss—that is, the food discarded early in the supply chain, like vegetables that rot in the fields and meat that gets spoilt when not refrigerated—and food waste, or food thrown out by households, restaurants, and other entities.
l It said households wasted about 632 million metric tonnes of food in 2022, which is 60 percent of the total, while the percentage of waste by the food service sector stood at 28 percent. The remaining 12 percent was laid at the door of the retail sector.
l The average person wastes 79 kg of food each year.
l Food waste is not only a “rich world phenomenon,” says the report, adding that the amounts of food wasted in high and middle-income countries differed by just 7 kg per person each year.
"Running institutional catering, we have our projections very well mapped, waste is tracked constantly, and menus are revised. In the case of leftover food, subject to checks and balances, food is given to agencies like the Robinhood Army to distribute to the hungry.”

— Shankar Krishnamurthy, restaurateur, Fusion Hospitality

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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