DESIGNED STARVATION: Food waste equals higher food prices and hunger

Best before date on food

Date-stamps on food add thousands of dollars to the bank accounts of marketers and distributors. With additives and preservatives to increase the shelf-life of products, food is capable of lasting far longer than it ever did during grandma’s days.

We have become so “date-oriented” we no longer use our senses to determine whether something is “off;” if it says so on the tin or the wrapping, it must be deadly and immediately disposed of.  Dates eliminate the need for sense. Millions of tons of food are destroyed daily, feeding the bottom-line of distributors, while hundreds of millions of people starve across the globe.

A World Hunger Report (WHR) issued by World Hunger Education Services stated 925 million—13 per cent of the world population—went hungry in 2010; hungry, not malnourished.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, hunger is defined as:

1.         a compelling need or desire for food.

2.         the painful sensation or state of weakness caused by the need of food: to collapse from hunger.

3.         a shortage of food; famine.

Yet, the world produces enough food to feed each person on the globe 2,700 calories per day.

Poverty is the principal cause of hunger; however, harmful economic and political systems are the principal cause of poverty.  To quote the WHR, “Control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do”.

Yes, there is enough food, but 13 per cent of the world population cannot afford to buy it and the other 87 percent? Why, we waste it, throw it away. In a study titled “Global Food Losses and Food Waste” conducted on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, published in October this year, over 3.5 million tons of food are wasted or destroyed every day worldwide.

One of the major waste culprits, accounting for more than 40 per cent at retail and consumer level of so-called “advanced” countries, is the little black “sell-by” or “best-if-used-by” date stamp ignominiously placed somewhere on the packaging, label or tin. Somehow in the mind of the consumer these words are defined as “deadly-poisonous” or “hazardous-to-health” and the true meaning of these words has been marketed out of the consumer’s dictionary; if it’s dated, it’s slated.

These days “sell-by” translates to“destroy-at-the-stroke-of-midnight-on” and according to the study, “Food waste at consumer level in industrialized countries (222 million tons) is almost as high as the total net food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).”

We have become picky; our food has to have style and be colour coordinated, singularly pretty and wear designer labels.  Potatoes must have no eyes, tomatoes hold a particular blush, pineapples not too much of a crown, carrots must stand tall and straight; and as for those beans, uniformly they must parade or be dismissed! And we want choices, the full range of a single product—potatoes are no longer simply potatoes, we have to have those best for roasting or boiling, baking, frying or mash.

In Kisoro, a tiny Ugandan village bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, village women plant potatoes for export on the slopes of volcanoes, a baby strapped to the back, one eye on the two year old precariously perched on the edge of an earth mound. They plant from sunrise to sunset, in mud up to their knees, in all weather conditions.

For their toil they are paid $0.16 per kg of potatoes, which we buy at the supermarket for $3.20—a mere 2000 per cent markup. Of each 100 kg food produced, only 35 per cent is actually consumed, the rest is wasted or destroyed along the distribution network from grower to consumer. Almost 50 per cent of all food produced is destroyed BEFORE it reaches the consumer. And then we complain about food prices. We are the reason food prices are so high.

We have been taught to demand only the best-looking, the most aesthetically pleasing; those well-displayed, beautifully wrapped pieces of perfection. They must be already cleaned and sorted so hand muscles don’t unnecessarily contract to peel a smaller lad; and of course, all of the same size cooks for the same time. The sense of cutting them to the same size has long been marketed right out of the common.

Let us take a look at the humble carrot which spends most of its ostrich life attempting to hide from view. According to a case in the FAO report:

Snapshot case: appearance quality standards: Carrot quality standards, by the supermarket chain Asda.

As research for the book Waste–understanding the global food scandal, Tristram Stuart visited several British farms to understand how quality standards affect food waste. Among others, Stuart visited M.H. Poskitt Carrots in Yorkshire, a major supplier of supermarket chain Asda. At the farm, the author was shown large quantities of out-graded carrots, which, having a slight bend, were sent off as animal feed. In the packing house, all carrots passed through photographic sensor machines, searching for aesthetic defects. Carrots that were not bright orange, had a blend or blemish or were broken were swept off into a livestock feed container. As staff at the farm put it: “Asda insists that all carrots should be straight, so customers can peel the full length in one easy stroke.” In total, 25 to 30 per cent of all carrots handled by M.H. Poskitt Carrots were out-graded. About half of these were rejected due to physical or aesthetic defects, such as being the wrong shape or size; being broken or having a cleft or a blemish.”

And the date.  Never forget the date.  It may look good, smell good, taste good, feel good, but it has “that date”–the prophet and profit of doom.

“Going out on a date” used to be what only humans did; food has now entered The Dating Game and humans go hungry.  We have designed starvation into the world, and only we can remove it by ignoring the “labels” and going back to trusting the senses we are fast allowing to be evolutioned away.

by Jane Olivier

image: Alpha (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA)
Posted by × December 3, 2011 at 11:52 AM

4 Comments

  1. Jason Marsh says:

    Thanks for the reminders. There is so much pointless waste and there’s so much we can do with it. Like Food not Bombs.

  2. I experience deep sadness for the people in our world that barely exist below starvation level and polluted water conditions. There is plenty of food and clean water, but corporate greed and obsession for power and control block basic elements for a decent life: clean water and basic food.

  3. Theresa Willis says:

    I have always thought it incredibly wasteful that stores and restaurants were not able to donate left over food or vegetables that needed to be consumed quickly to places of need, due to the risk of being sued over food poisoning etc…

  4. I have a friend who was a waitress at a restaurant. She gave some leftovers to a beggar and got fired!

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