Food in the times of Corona
How going zero waste helps you save money, live a more considerate life and as a result, share the love for others and the planet.
Zero waste is a movement and a lifestyle with a principle of lowering the amount of waste we produce through reducing, reusing and recycling. These three steps encompass various aspects of individual lifestyle, such as clothing or the use of plastic packaging. We will be covering as many of the aspects as we can in the future, but for this issue, we decided to focus on food waste. We feel like the lockdown provides everybody with a great opportunity to introduce changes in daily habits, some of which may be hard to focus on in regular times. Now is the time to slow down, reflect and work on healthy habits – your green transition may well start in your kitchen!
The cost of convenience
Food is the very fundament of our existence, something that we equally need no matter our race, gender or economic status. A balanced diet keeps us healthy better than any amount of medicines, it regulates our hormones and influences our mood. In the past hundred years, food production has been industrialized and today, we take it for granted that in our Western supermarkets, the shelves are always filled with any food we can imagine. It is customary that at any point of the day or night, we can go to a shop and pick whatever we feel like eating in the spur of the moment.
However, the convenience that we achieved comes at a great cost. Industrial food production deeply disrupts the natural ecosystems because the crops are grown in soil-draining monocultures with the use of pesticides that harm the indigenous fauna and flora. The storage revolution brought about by plastic packaging, even though it prolongs the shelf life of products, adds tremendous amounts of non-recyclable waste into ecosystems that are unable to deal with such new, alien presence.
Depleting the soils, distorting the natural habitats and creating tons of plastic waste: this is the price we pay for having 24/7 access to the always fresh, always perfectly looking products. The worst part of it, however, is that one-third of the sacrifice we impose on the Earth is caused in vain.
One-third of your lunch is in the bin
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, one-third of all the food produced globally goes to waste. That amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes per year. The number includes food that is being, in FAO’s nomenclature, ‘lost’ – during harvest, transportation or production – and ‘wasted’, a term that describes food that is fit for consumption yet it ends up in a trash bin.
Developed countries are responsible for approximately 670 million tons of food waste yearly. Individual lifestyle choices are to a large extent responsible for such a state of affairs: we buy more than we can eat, we throw leftovers intoto the bin without a second thought, and we expect supermarkets to always have the perfect products in stock. So much perfectly edible food worldwide gets destroyed only because it deviates from the food beauty standards.
Luckily enough, there are grocers that put effort into saving differently-looking fruit and vegetables from ending up in a landfill. In Rotterdam, some greengrocers offer produce that they acquired on a special auction for supermarket rejects. We will share their addresses in the upcoming posts.
Food waste is a global issue that is not only environmental but also moral. Food production requires vast amounts of increasingly scarce water, land, and – in the case of processed food – technological resources; throwing away edible products resembles ripping off your old outfits just because you can. Because we can buy as much food as we wish at any point, we do not consider food waste actual waste, but part of our daily routines. Considering the less affluent inhabitants of the globe who struggle to find enough food to nourish themselves and their families, food waste is a problem that we should – and, with establishing some healthy habits, easily can – strive to eradicate.
COVID-19… does not make it better
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lifestyle and left the food supply chain tremendously affected. Choiceful decided to ask some business insiders about their experiences with food waste during the lockdown in a specially designated survey. We found out that the effect on businesses varies according to the nature of a particular business: in general, food providers such as grocery stores or food distribution centers experience a boom, while venues such as cafes, bars or restaurants are dealing with stagnation due to forced closures. The way the businesses experience and deal with food waste relates to the changes they underwent.
Food distribution centers, as well as grocery stores, experience an enormous boom. The representatives told Choiceful that food waste during this period has actually decreased, because everything is used to the maximum. This is great news!
The situation, however, looks less bright for the venues that had to close. At the beginning of the lockdown, the main issue was that the food supplies stocked in restaurants and canteens had to be disposed of because the venues had to close down. Due to the increasing awareness of the food waste issue, business owners managed to deal with the new situation resourcefully, by donating to food banks and distributing food to their employees.
There are various places in Rotterdam where you can donate your leftover food: Voedselbank is just one of them. We will be shortly sharing our findings and favorite places!
Now, a couple of weeks into the lockdown, another, far greater difficulty emerges: the farmers find the demand for their crops plummeting. Such change, coming mostly from the fact that farmers lost access to main clients such as restaurants or schools, puts tons of agricultural output in risk of being wasted. Again, it is uplifting to see that some providers managed to find a way around this difficulty and not waste their products. Rechtstreex, for example, a chain of local farmers operating in various Dutch cities, offers a weekly surprise box with products that would normally go to schools and restaurants.
Considering how many people found themselves out of jobs and are suddenly facing hunger and poverty, food waste during the lockdown shows the inefficiency of the global food distribution channels. In the face of such grim developments, it is more crucial than ever to prevent domestic food waste as much as we can – and individual consumers are essential to the process of waste prevention.
How zero waste teaches us considerate love
Individual consumers, together with retail, account for 61% of food waste worldwide in non-pandemic times. When COVID-19 just broke out, many people rushed to supermarkets in a shopping panic, emptying the shelves and stocking themselves with perishable and non-perishable food, together with the indispensable toilet paper. The first wave of food waste came weeks after the panic buying – people could not eat all the food that they bought, so it started to rot. Choiceful will be sharing tips on creative uses of overbought food, so if it ever happens to you again, you will have a choice to use it up or donate instead of throwing it away!
The absurdity of our food supply chain is on display during the lockdown: the shops remained open all this time, with – still, even in times of a crisis – fully stocked containers of perfectly looking fruit and vegetables.
The ‘zero waste’ movement aims at creating a more empathetic world, both for the planet and the people. The main principle of the movement is to reduce the amount of waste produced by altering consumer choices. It is really simple: do not overbuy and reduce the amount of single-use packaging. By changing daily habits – with time, step-by-step – we create instinctive attitudes that enable us to take control of our food choices. As a result, we choose and co-create a world we want to see: a world where everyone enjoys equal access to responsibly distributed resources. It starts with an action as simple as bringing your own plastic bag to the marketplace.
Zero waste means being present. It means understanding ourselves and tuning in with our authentic needs. Living zero waste allows us to slow down and reduce the number of stimuli around us, to focus on our health and genuine relations with those we care for. Being more in tune with our bodies and minds by cleaning up lifestyle routines opens a life of opportunities: we choose what we focus on, which means we finally have time to exercise, to take care of our diet and to create fewer yet deeper social connections. Ultimately, a zero-waste lifestyle also saves money, since we reduce the number of things we need and we avoid wasting resources.
On a wider scale, a zero-waste lifestyle can bring about a deeper societal change. We live in a capitalist democracy, a political system in which our consumer choices represent a world we choose to live in. We vote every day by the supermarket shelf: we decide whether we give our support to wasteful corporations feeding us with highly processed, carcinogenic food, or whether we want to see the food we eat being responsibly produced, with positive health effects. Buying means supporting: companies that destroy the planet, like fast fashion or the meat industry, or those that fight for a better world.
You have a choice and you have Choiceful to assist you. Your zero waste journey starts today – now is the perfect time to work on your healthy habits!
A gentle transition with Choiceful
This issue is dedicated to helping you transform your kitchen into a zero-waste one. Do you know there are so many delicious dishes you can transform potato peels into? Are you sure that your product is definitely expired? Why clinging to cling film?
You can do so much good by changing so little.
In this issue, we will explain the process of commercial food distribution in an in-depth interview. We will share our tips, tricks, podcasts, books, and recipes on zero-waste cooking. We will chat with a member of Zero Food Waste Rotterdam who will share her views on food waste and the best ways to prevent it. We will tell you what we do to avoid plastic packaging. We will also let you know where you can donate food in case you bought too much.
There is no waste in nature – everything is part of an interconnected ecosystem. It is time to tap back into this interconnectedness.
Sources & additional resources
Data regarding food waste and food loss comes from official FAO statistics that can be found here: http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/
National Geographic explained the issue of plastic pollution: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/
NY Times painted a dark picture of the food waste going on in the United States during COVID-19: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/11/business/coronavirus-destroying-food.html
One Green Planet shows the degeneration imposed on soils by monocultures: https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/monoculture-crops-environment/
You can monitor the progress towards eradicating extreme poverty worldwide on World Poverty Clock: https://worldpoverty.io
Information regarding how local businesses are coping with the effects of the lockdown has been acquired by Choiceful through interviewing business workers and owners in our network.