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We have the ability to do something about food waste

Lois Schultz of Wetaskiwin won top honours in the 2017 Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture Competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto last month. Here is her prizewinning speech.

Seven hundred and fifty million is a huge number.

But it seems even more gigantic when you discover that it represents the number of people in this world who don’t have enough food.

Food waste. We see it all the time, and whether we acknowledge it or not, you and I are huge contributors to it. Because we waste an enormous amount of food at the production and consumer level, it is bound to have repercussions on our globe.

Just how much does it affect our entire society though?

Well, that’s one of the things we are going to discover today. Next, we are going to talk about changing it. What’s it going to take to get people to stand up and make a difference? Maybe it’s time to stop just talking about the problem while we sit around our dinner tables with plenty of food. This time we need to make a change for those who don’t have that privilege. And last but not least, I’m going to talk about a technology that could change it all.

What impact does food waste have on our globe?

According to National Geographic, approximately one-third of the food that this planet produces never reaches the table. One-third? That seems like an awfully steep number, when roughly 750 million people are suffering from undernourishment.

Imagine that you went home right now, and threw out one-third of the food in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Now imagine every one of the 7.6 billion people that inhabit this earth doing that. I am not saying that everyone throws away that much food, but we need to have our attention brought to just how much wasting we actually do, because we hardly notice it.

At home, we waste because we don’t plan. In restaurants, it’s because food that isn’t eaten or taken home must be thrown out. And in grocery stores, it’s because food that has reached expiry or fruits and veggies that have lost their visual appeal are thrown out. It’s even food that never reached consumers because it spoiled in storage and transportation.

People wonder how we are going to have enough food to feed our globe in the years to come. But we actually already produce enough food for the population increase. Unfortunately, because of prices, politics, and wastefulness, much of the world goes hungry. We certainly grow enough on this planet, we just need to learn how to manage it.

Making a change. What can we do here to improve the issue?

Maybe we could get a few tips from France. In France, supermarkets cannot throw out food. They are actually banned from doing so. It must be given to charity or donated to food banks. These laws don’t just happen in a day though. In order to get processes like this started, we need to have influential people on board.

Like him or not, take — for example — David Suzuki. On the David Suzuki Foundation website, it gives a complete guide to recycling. People don’t recycle just because they can. They recycle because someone important and influential says it’s a good idea. This is the beauty of a bandwagon.

David Suzuki might not be the best person to ask about supporting agriculture though. Imagine if we could get someone like Mr. Chris Hadfield. This Canadian astronaut is well respected and has enough influence to convince a country that a change needs to be made. If we can get influential people, along with the government, to implement similar changes in Canada to the ones in France, we can not only limit food waste, but we can also help out those in need.

I’ve been on mission trips to Ecuador and seen families who have literally nothing. And all that makes you want to do is want to help, and we can. This doesn’t mean that we can just give everything near its expiry date to charity though. It has to be safe as well. Which brings up a good question. What’s a new way to make food safe?

I want to get you to think outside the box.

What if we thought about a big change, something that could limit food waste, make food safer, and last longer? A technology that could change it all: Food irradiation.

Food irradiation extends the shelf and storage life of foods through an ionization process. Ionization is basically what happens when you sterilize dental and medical tools. Irradiation takes away the bacteria, but leaves the nutrients. It can take perishable foods, such as meat, and make it resistant to E. coli and salmonella. It can take cheese and make it resistant to mould, and produce last longer without going rotten.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 50 per cent of all vegetables and fruit are wasted due to contamination and spoilage. Fifty per cent!

Think of all of the food that we could save by making food irradiation commonplace. Irradiating food results in a minuscule change to the sensory and nutritional values. And most importantly, contrary to popular belief, it DOES NOT make food radioactive!

Here is why this technology has not been widely accepted though: Because of its name.

In 2002, Health Canada announced that in addition to the extremely short list of foods irradiated in Canada, it was going to add ground beef to the list. But because of negative stakeholder reactions, it never completed this.

This is where we need that powerful influence to come alongside and show people that this technology is not out to get them. Maybe we could get the Honourable Justin Trudeau to take a selfie with the food irradiation symbol.

Knowing that one-third of the food that we work hard to produce doesn’t even make it to the table is frightening. One-third of seed, fuel, fertilizer, and labour wasted — even though we have so many undernourished people in the world.

As we have seen in France though, there are excellent ways to reduce the waste and feed someone who doesn’t have enough, so long as it’s safe. If we can get influential figures such as Mr. Hadfield to come on side and encourage people to join the anti-food waste bandwagon, we are headed in the right direction.

This is one of those rare instances where bandwagons might work in agriculture’s favour.

And lastly, let’s get over the fact that it’s called irradiation, and accept it because it can make a difference.

If thinking outside the box means that we can have more food to provide to those who do not have enough, then who are we to stand in the way? Get society to jump off the anti-irradiation bandwagon, and jump on the one that saves our world, and our people.

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