So… I have a really exciting announcement for you – Food (Policy) For Thought is growing! We [now I can say “we”! Woot!] have a new guest contributor, Helena! I’ll let her introduce herself in person, so without further ado – welcome on board, Helena!
Hey everyone. I’m Helena from Stockholm and I will from now on be contributing on occasion to Janina’s fantastic blog. As a student of agriculture food and environmental policy analysis (AFEPA) myself, currently domesticated in the small but eventful city of Bonn in Germany, I share a passion for sustainable food systems with Janina. I’m especially geeky when it comes to policy, international solidarity and environmental sustainability so you will see much of those topics coming from me and I hope you will find some of it interesting. Please feel free to comment on any topic, as most of the content will be my own thoughts and opinions.
So, since I have your attention…
I just crossed an article from the FAO regional office for Europe and Central Asia on the differences between food loss and food waste and the importance this distinction have to create sustainable food chains. I you don’t not already know (otherwise you may skip to the next paragraph 🙂 ) I will take the opportunity to briefly explain it here.
Whether food that cannot be used is considered a loss or a waste depends on where in the food chain it gets spoiled. Food losses typically takes place post-harvest and in the processing stages of food. The food waste occurs on retailer and household level when supermarkets take in excess supply, restaurants create leftovers and consumers buy “Maxi packs”, just to mention some of the sources.
Turns out that this distinction of terms that may seem trivial gives us a quite clear picture of what types of problem the current food system has and where they have to be addressed. In developing countries, the losses can occur due to lack of adequate storage or inefficiencies in the processing stages, where 40 % of the food is lost.
On the other hand, Europe and other high income countries, the waste is created when human behavior and profit maximizing retailers doesn’t have an incentive to preserve the food.
During my years of studying politics and food I have come to understand that so much meaning lays in the terminology we use and that we sometimes are unaware of. The particular words used to describe phenomena in society does make a difference since they are loaded with implicit understanding and bring about different patterns of association in our minds. Especially when talking about political matters the discourse created around a particular problem, including the words used, is key to the whole process of problem shaping. This will in the end have consequences to the importance we pay to the issue and the measures that we take to solve them.
In this particular case, the distinction between food waste and food loss is crucial not only because it broadens the understanding of the complex issue of food waste but because it tells policy makers how and where to target efforts, if their aim is reducing food losses and waste. The distinction also gives us a moral hint that waste is unnecessary while losses in production sometimes cannot be avoided.
Oh, and you know that approximately 1/3 of all food that is produced is lost or wasted, right? Well, there’s even more: every year, the world uses as much water as the annual flow of Russia’s Volga river – and adds 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the planet’s atmosphere – just to produce the food that we never eat. That’s what you can call an inefficient system…
For more on food losses and waste, check out FAOs SAVE FOOD initiative or read this short and comprehensive study. [Janina’s addition: also, don’t forget our food waste mini series that I published more than 2 years ago as some of my first posts – oh, how time flies!]
Still frustrated and want to do more? Sign the Joint Food Wastage Declaration!
Have you actively watched wording like the food loss vs. food waste issue? Do you have other examples of cases where our word choice can actively impact our attitude to a problem and its possible solutions?