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What A Waste: New Study Says Canadians Waste $27 Billion Worth Of Food Every Year
October 1, 2012
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Here's something to think about when you're having lunch or dinner today. As a country, we waste a staggering amount of food.

How much? Try 40%. That's right, according to recent estimates we throw away 40% of our food. Or to put it another way, we waste $27 billion worth of food a year.

That dollar value comes from a new study by the Value Chain Management Centre, which puts out research on food waste every year.

The report says the entire food chain is to blame - from farmers and food manufacturers to supermarkets and restaurants.

But here's the incredible thing. According to the report, more than half of the food we waste (51%) comes from our homes. In other words, the stuff we throw in the garbage or the compost.

"The food waste that occurs in Canada is largely a symptom of current processes and attitudes, primarily of abundance and affluence," the report says.

So basically, we have so much food we don't think twice about throwing it away. Not only that, but compared to many parts of the world, food in Canada is relatively cheap so we're more likely to waste it.

And we're not talking about food that is going bad. We're talking about food that is perfectly good to eat. Some of it never even gets opened; it's still in it's original packaging.

The report points out a few other problems. In general, it says we fill up our plates too much, or "supersize" stuff, and we can't eat it all. And sometimes, the labels on food can be confusing so we're not sure when it expires or if it's still safe to eat.

The VCMC is based in Guelph, Ontario and is part of the George Morris Centre - an independent, non-profit, agricultural think-tank.

It's much the same story in the United States - nearly 40 per cent of food in America ends up in the trash ever year. In Britain, it's estimated about one-third of food is thrown away every year - nearly $20 billion worth.

In the meantime, many countries in the world are facing food shortages, high prices that many people can't afford, and of course, hunger.

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly a third of all food around the world is wasted or lost. And 860 million people are malnourished.


As well, according to the UN World Food Programme, the poorest people in the developing world spend as much as 60-80 % of their incomes just on food. When food prices go up, they have even less money for other things such as clothes, shelter, medicine, and school supplies.

So, if we know people in other parts of the world are in trouble, why do we keep wasting so much food?

Well, one theory is that the idea of a green bin makes us feel better because we're composting instead of sending food to landfill.

But the reality is, we're still wasting it. American journalist Jonathan Bloom puts forward that theory in his book 'American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half Of Its Food.'

As Bloom told The Toronto Star, "There's just something wrong with throwing away food when so many people go without... There are ways to get that food to people before you put it in the garbage."

He blames it on the "all-you-can-eat" or as he calls it, the "all-you-can-waste" culture.

In England, an agency called the Waste & Resources Action Programme (which is funded by the government) has started a campaign called 'Love Food Hate Waste'.

The idea is to give people simple ideas on how to save food, save money and help the environment. And yes, wasting food impacts the environment.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation and World Vision, rotting food that ends up in landfills is one of the main causes of greenhouse gases.

Plus, we (the taxpayers) end up paying a lot of the costs to collect, transport and send all that wasted food to landfill.

Not only that, but the Suzuki Foundation says more than 30 per cent of fruits and vegetables in North America don't even make it onto store shelves, because they're not considered "pretty enough".

And it points out, that when we throw away food, all the resources to grow, ship and produce that food get wasted too, including huge volumes of water.

In the U.S. alone, it says the amount of water lost from food waste is like pouring 40 trillion litres of water down the drain.

But there are ways to save food, and it's pretty simple. Here's a list of tips.


Think Before You Shop

Check the refrigerator before you shop. Freeze what you don't plan to eat. And don't just plan your shopping list, but plan when you'll have time to prepare the food you're buying.

Also, try shopping each day to buy just what you plan to eat that evening or the following day. It only takes a few extra minutes than a "weekly" shop at the grocery store, and the food is always fresh so odds are, you won't throw out as much.

Plus, pay attention to best-before dates and try cooking large one-pot meals, which can be divided into smaller individual meals and frozen for another time.

Save What You Don't Eat For Leftovers

There are several ways to do this - eat it the next day; freeze leftovers to use later and put a date on the container; combine leftovers with other food to make a new meal. And instead of using a microwave, heat up your leftovers in the oven to help preserve the original taste.

Think Before You Throw It Away

If you have extra food that's still good but you don't plan to eat it, take it to organizations such as Second Harvest, that redistribute food to those in need, including hospices and school lunch programs. Livestock farmers and zoos also use leftovers to feed the animals.

Grow Your Own Food Or Start A Compost Pile

Start a small garden (or a big one) to grow some of your own food. It'll be fresh and you'll probably waste less and save money on transportation.

And to keep food from rotting in a landfill, start a compost pile in your backyard. You can go online for tips on composting, which will help your soil and your garden.

Of course, you can always do something globally. Here's a video from the UN World Food Programme that might inspire you.

It's called 'Hunger: The World's Greatest Solvable Problem'.

George is the WFP's first Canadian ambassador against hunger. You read a lot more about that here and if you'd like to make a donation, just click here.

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