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Wanting not to waste

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by Amber Hildebrandt, CBCNews.ca

One of my vegetable bins in the fridge is brimming with produce about to go to waste. Half a lettuce head turned slimy. Carrots gone limp. Some broccoli that's questionable. It's the classic mistake of my grocery cart being too big for my stomach.

If I didn't feel guilty enough, the British government released a report last week revealing how families there throw out one-third of the food they buy, a sad fact that puts higher demands on an already straining food market and contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than I'd care to think about.

The Food Matters study came out as Britain and the other industrialized countries in the Group of Eight, including Canada, met in the pristine greenery of northern Japan's Hokkaido island and vowed to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The report points to the food chain, production and waste as causing its fair share of environmental problems, from the tractors plowing the fields to the plastic-packaged products that are driven to grocery store shelves.

But what's striking is, after all that effort, how much food never makes it into our mouths.

In Britain, a third of purchased food, or 6.7 million tonnes, get thrown out. Some of it consists of peel rinds and bones, but the study says 61 per cent of it is avoidable and could've been eaten if consumers planned better, stored the food properly, were less confused by "sell by" or "best before" labels and didn't cave to "buy one, get one free" deals when it was unlikely they'd eat the food. No such numbers could be found for Canada.

"Eliminating household food waste would deliver major benefits, including a reduction in GHG emissions equivalent to taking one in five cars off UK roads," the report commissioned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown says.

But even before the food makes it to our kitchens from faraway farms, the report estimates up to 40 per cent of harvests are lost in the developing world before it's consumed because of inadequate processing, storage and transporting.

Even then, I wonder whether in the face of a global food crisis we should be wagging our fingers less at industry and looking more inside our own fridges.

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