How to stop wasting food world-wide

A new paper says that billions of tons of food are wasted every year, both because of producers and transporters not taking a good care of them, but also because the average person is simply letting food rot in their fridge (in the Western countries, that is).

30% of all purchased meat & fish goes to waste, and 19% of veggies. Here’s my own analysis of the problem in my personal experience, and how to stop it.

Veggies & Fruits

I cook what I eat, the vast majority of the time. And yet, even myself I occasionally waste food. The reason being is this: I was sold too much of it. When I need 3 leaves of kale for my stew, I need just that: 3 leaves of kale. Not a bunch of 15 leaves! When I need 1 carrot for my soup, I need just that: 1 carrot. And when I need 5 tangerines, I need 5, not 30 in a big bag.

Instead, 90% of what’s sold in the produce aisles (and even in farmer’s markets!) are in big bunches/packages. If we were still living in the wild, I’d only pick what I needed for the day, not the whole field. This philosophy must come to all supermarkets too, by law, otherwise, we over-farm (and this has many consequences), we over-produce, we over-consume, and at the end we’re making heaps of garbage. Sure, what I’m suggesting here is not very capitalistic, but it’s logical, and it’s how we evolved to consume.

So here’s my idea on how to bring the “buy only what you need” philosophy to the market:

– Create three color-coded areas in the produce aisle: Yellow, Red, Blue (so all color blind people can see them too). Plastic bags for produce will have such colors too.
– Fruits and veggies that cost (let’s say) $1 per pound, are in the Yellow area. Produce in the Red area cost $3/lb, and Blue cost $5/lb. More expensive super-markets or organic produce can be sold more expensively, but still at this 3-tier pricing scheme (the actual prices are something to be decided by the parties involved, not the focus of this article).
– The trick is that none of these veggies are sold in bunches. Big veggies (e.g. cabbage, iceberg), are sold as whole, 1/2 and 1/4 sizes. People can mix and match what they buy, as long as these are part of the same color-coded area/price.

This type of selling goods have the following benefits:
– People are not going to waste so much food anymore, because they will be buying exactly what they need. Since everything is sold by weight, they will be careful of how much they buy. There’s now incentive for it.
– People will also have incentive to try more veggies! People who never tried collard greens before, they will buy just 1 leaf (since they won’t be paying much for it for that weight), just to try it once. The next time, they will try something else they never had before. Eventually, that’s how you make people acquiring healthier habits.
– Food consumed will be fresher, since people will be buying, let’s say, 1 potato and some salad greens for dinner, instead of trying to finish big packages they bought a week earlier.
– Larger package produce can still be sold (e.g. for restaurants), but only as frozen.
– Fewer plastic bags and packaging will be needed.

On the downside, less produce will be sold overall (about 25% less), which might be something that super-markets and producers won’t like. But we should be seeing the bigger picture of all this, rather than the profit of few. Producers might find an incentive to move to organic-only food, so they can sell at slightly higher prices, for example. Or, since they will be producing less of their main crop, they can use the rest of their land to produce something else. This is good for rotating crops too. Overall, I think producers will find a way to make a profit, it’s the super-markets that will mostly lose with this idea. But it’s something that has to be done.

Meat & Fish

For meat & fish, my idea is to not sell meat packages with more than 80gr to 150 gr (depending on fat and bone content of the cut). For a low-fat cut for example, 80gr is enough for one serving size for one person. Instead, what we see today, are huge meat packages sold, sometimes with huge steaks in them. 30% of all food going to waste is meat!

Humans don’t require that much of it. An egg in the morning with fermented dairy, an 80gr fish/shellfish for lunch, and an 80gr of white or red meat for dinner are more than enough to get your protein needs going. Instead, people are over-consuming meat nowadays, and it’s driving our animals to farm prisons (in order for these industries to meet demand), and our wild fish in extinction (farmed fish are worse than farmed animals food-wise).

In my country, Greece (and other traditional countries to my knowledge), people would eat red meat once or twice a month. They had wild game or chicken once a week. Eggs 3-4 times a week. Seafood twice a week. Dairy daily. But red meat, well, not that often. On top of that, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday were strict vegan days for Greeks, since the Orthodox Church required it.

Sure, the whole turkey, whole chicken and the occasional roast can still be sold as such, since they’re easily freezable after they’ve been cooked, and so they rarely go to waste. But when it comes to individual pieces of beef, lamb & pork, or huge packages of poultry pieces, these do go to waste. Providing small packages of a single serving is how you fix this problem. A family of 3 can buy three ~80gr packages of such meat, while a single person will only buy one.

The benefits of such a system are this:
– No need to over-fish our oceans. No need to over-farm fish (which are kept in terrible conditions and are toxic to eat too often).
– No need to over-produce meat. Since we would be buying less meat, we can fit these animals easier in our plains, to live a more respected and natural life. No need to fill them up with so many hormones and antibiotics. Less farming, less toxic waste in our environment.
– Since small packages will be sold, the people would be more curious to try more types of fish and meat, e.g. ostrich, bison, goat, duck, goose etc.

Again, the people who will lose the most are the super-markets and the meat industry. Well, bad luck. It’s time to see the big picture and where we go as a species on this rock, than just to be looking straight at our pockets and profit.

The true key

Finally, it’s more than possible that this type of market will drive food prices up for the consumer too. This is why people need to leave mega-cities, move back to smaller towns, and have their own vegetable garden and hens. It’s easy to say “I’m going to live in NY or SF or LA because that’s where it’s so cool to be right now”, while in order for you to be living there and having a cool life and a smashing career, you DEPEND on a relentless food industry that commits CRIMES against the Earth and all its living creatures, on your BEHALF. It’s easy to close our eyes and think that food arrives in the supermarket from the clouds, but it isn’t so.

For the record, I’m not a vegan or vegetarian. I’m in fact, Paleo. But I’m also not blind. Which is why I keep my own herb garden while all my neighbors waste precious California water to water fucking useless grasses and ornamental bullshit. I can’t wait to leave this place one day, and move back to Greece, cultivating my father’s land up in the high mountains of Epirus. Probably have a few chickens too. That’s life. That’s responsibility. That’s true freedom.

1 Comment »

Shade wrote on March 2nd, 2014 at 6:57 AM PST:

Thanks for the post, Eugenia! I quite much support your views but I just fail to see how would the world economics be willing to follow such a direction. Everyone is too obsessed with a short-run revenues :/ It makes me sick seeing how we ruin our own planet and extinguish everything that it hosts too :((


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