By Carles Soto and Marta Carriere
7.4 billion people live in our world. Out of those, 795 million suffer from malnourishment, even though more than four billion tons of food is produced each year. The reason being that approximately 1.3 billion tons of the food produced in the world gets lost or wasted each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Of course, there is a visible discrepancy between first and third world regions. Individuals in Europe waste around 100 kilograms of food per year whereas those in sub-Saharan Africa waste 10 kilograms per year.
Adrià Soler, a 23–year–old from El Prat de Llobregat, a mid-size town in Catalonia, was having lunch in a restaurant in Barcelona. He was looking at his phone with a plate still half full of food in front of him. “I just wasn’t hungry anymore”, he said when asked about why he left food on his plate. “When I eat at home I know how much food I want and prepare it accordingly; in a restaurant, I just ask for the food that I want regardless of the quantity of the serving.”
Soler’s case may not be unusual. The European Commission estimates that 7.7 million tonnes of food are wasted in Spain every year, which represents an expenditure of €3.3 million. In Catalonia alone, according to the Agència Catalana de Residus de Catalunya, every individual waste close to 35 kilos of food, or 77 pounds, per year, which represents a yearly loss of €841 million.Although the majority of waste is produced in homes, rather than food restoration and distribution, restaurants throw away an average of 2.5 kilograms of safe food a day, which means that the annual waste exceeds half a tonne of food, mainly from consumers such as Adrià Soler. One survey found that 27 per cent of customers left safe food uneaten on their plate when dining out.
Restaurants may share some of the blame, though, as, on the same survey, 41 per cent of respondents said that they did so because portions were too big, which gives a hint to a possible solution: simply reducing the amount of food served.
Marta Vidal knows about restaurant food waste, as she has worked in the industry for almost thirty years and has opened ten restaurants. Currently, she is the owner of Matilda & Cook, a restaurant in an affluent section of Barcelona, as peculiar as it is cosy, with a reduced menu that changes every week at a fixed price.
We visited the restaurant and interviewed some of the workers there; they all had different experiences and stories regarding food waste, but the most important thing was that they were all concerned about a large amount of food wasted daily in just one restaurant.
When asked about what the restaurant does to reduce their food waste, Marta answered: “I always try to reuse everything if possible. If there’s food that wasn’t used and it’s still in safe conditions, I always try to make some other plates with these foods, such as croquettes.”
Having a vast variety and quantity of food available requires complex logistics. No matter how hard companies try to optimise their stock and maximise sales, a large proportion of food is not sold. All restaurant food comes from the supermarket sector, which also throws away all the food that cannot be sold.
One of the main reasons is that anything that is not purchased before the expiration date must be removed from stock. It is also necessary that all food which is in poor conditions has been damaged or fruits and vegetables that do not meet the aesthetic canon be removed from the shop windows, as food must meet customers’ expectations.Caprabo, one of the largest supermarket chains in Catalonia, is affected by the problem of food waste daily. We had the opportunity to interview some employees, who told us that a recent law prohibits all food taken out from stock to be donated to people or to non-governmental organisations. This law requires that this food be thrown into the trash.
An employee who has been working at Caprabo for more than 15 years, told us: “Some years ago, we gave everything to foundations, or there were homeless people who aren’t able to afford to buy food who came to the supermarket at specific times, which we set, and picked up all this food. It was breath-taking to see.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food waste is part of food loss and refers to the discarding of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption. Food waste is a distinct part of food loss, which also includes discarded food not safe for human consumption. The solutions are different for each problem.
The causes of food waste or loss are numerous and occur at the stages of producing, processing, retailing and consuming. These last two phases are very intertwined, as retailing food waste usually comes from consumers or rather the lack of thereof.
A woman who worked in Caprabo’s fish market said that with fresh food there is a shorter time to sell it. That is why most supermarkets choose to lower the price of fresh produce as a last resort before having to throw it away. “It’s better to sell something for half than throwing it away,” she said. This way the supermarket can cushion losses and those who plan to consume it immediately can save money.
At Santagloria, a bakery chain, products of this type must be manufactured and sold on the same day, so it does not have many timeframes to be sold. A worker at the bakery said that during the weekend is when almost all the food is sold, but during the week they usually have food left.
From 9.30pm, which is when they close, they are allowed to donate food that has not been sold during working hours, to people who cannot afford to buy it, although people do not come to collect food every day.The growing number of initiatives on a global level brings this issue increasingly into the limelight, subject to imminent legislation. Concerned with the issue, legislators are planning a new law. If the law were to pass, restaurants would be obliged to facilitate means for their clients if they don’t finish their food.
It would also prohibit establishments larger than 400 square meters to throw away food that hasn’t expired, among other things, and there would be fined up to €50,000 for infractions such as not verbally offering the consumer to take their leftover food with them, or not informing in a visible way of such possibility. It is expected that this law will be passed by the Parliament of Catalonia as early as June or July this year.
Raúl Moreno, a member of the Parliament of Catalonia, said in a speech defending the bill that the fight against food waste must be a national objective, of the society as a whole, and keep us occupied and concern us all because of its environmental, social, economic and sustainability implications.
Featured image courtesy of EarthFix via Flickr