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When it comes to food waste, the system is broken

An astonishing amount of food spoils or is thrown out — it’s time to take action

Between my home and the Victoria airport is a big sign urging “Let’s reduce food waste.”

If you are reading this column from your farm table, you may already be an expert at the preservation of food and the use of leftovers. Typically, we eat all we grow on the farm.

In the store however, one tomato looks like the next as does one apple and one onion. Imperfection is not tolerated. What happens to the unlovely in the field and greenhouse?

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According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, global losses of those fruits and veggies (including root crops) from imperfection, rot, or trim is 40 to 50 per cent of the total grown. We lose 30 per cent of all cereals; 20 per cent of all oilseeds, dairy and meat; and 35 per cent of all fish (the largest protein source on Earth).

The nutritional loss is staggering.

I recall on one world tour having a photo of barrels of apples from a farm stand in New Zealand. In most of the countries we travelled in, folks would marvel at ‘all that food.’ You and I know the whole barrel would not sell, but that would not stop the marginalized from partaking — if they could.

Trouble is they can’t.

Corruption, broken infrastructure, political interference, and financial restraints keep much of developed and developing world’s food in the garbage bin. So how do we initiate change — if not in other areas of the world, at least in our own backyard?

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At this fall’s food waste summit held in New York City, several panels discussed the possibility of shifting the conversation from the social spectrum to the economic one.

We should ask: What can people afford?

The ATM (Any Time Milk) machines in Kenya offer a local solution for farmers who need to sell milk and customers who need to buy it but have only a few coins. Allowing for the customer to buy only what they can afford and take it home in their own container saves a lot of dignity. We need creative and innovative ways such as these ATM machines to deliver food where and when it is needed.

In the field, what can we do?

My favourite painting from the 1800s is The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet. Women are stooped in the harvested fields picking up spare kernels. I know our potato-growing friends allow for it and on the island, it is a little more common. But it may be something to think about again. One man’s spoil is another’s treasure, and communities can be fortified around activities such as gleaning.

Rescuing food is big business and there are now several apps that you can download to know who is throwing out what and when. It is not uncommon to rescue food from food banks as well. Dad did this for years, taking home truckloads of unsold baking for the cattle rather than have it all go to the dump. We can officially say that calves love cream pies, and rattling a loaf of bread is better than calling the cows home. The cattle industry has become adept at feeding many food products, are there other uses as well?

Fuel from waste is going great guns and a super example is initiatives in Calgary where restaurants are committed to keeping waste out of landfills for the creation of biofuel.

At the heart of the discussion on food waste is change. It is clear that solutions do not reside in viewing food waste, rescue, redistribution, and recycling strictly as a responsibility of charity, but as a business challenge.

Would tax breaks for companies reducing food waste be feasible? Could we divert more investment into research and innovation to counter the problem? What business models do we need? And after business addresses the issue of food waste, and even profits from it, do consumers even care?

Certainly new business models are needed as is greater education. In total, 15 per cent of global food waste is at the farm, which is alarming, but 40 per cent is at the plate. Are we eating too much, buying too much, expecting too much, and just too darn picky when it comes to food?

I don’t know. I do know that the greatest thing Mom taught me was to never waste food and how to be creative with leftovers.

But we are just two in the crowd. Does what we do and what you do make a difference?

I would think so because unless we correct the food waste problem, we are not going to profit but pay for it in land degradation, climate, and landfill issues; losses at the farm and in store; health issues from nutritional loss; and food cost.

We know what this broken system looks like and now need to ask from a social and business perspective what it could be. We no longer can afford a prolonged insensitivity to all that is possible.

About the author

AF Columnist

Brenda Schoepp

Brenda Schoepp works as an international mentor and motivational speaker. She can be contacted through her website at All rights reserved.



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