Strap in, because you’re about to be served a wild stat: 58 per cent of all food produced in Canada — 35.5 million tonnes! — is lost or wasted every year.
That’s according to a report, “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste,” published by Second Harvest, a Toronto-based food rescue organization. The agency estimates around a third of the food we waste can be a given a second chance to feed someone in need.
And it gets worse: all that food we’re turning to trash contributes 22 million tonnes of climate-pillaging carbon dioxide emissions. There is not a single good thing about this situation. It sucks, unequivocally.
So, what the hell? Here’s what’s going wrong:
- – Consumers buying food at the grocery store, particularly when there’s a sale, and throwing the surplus away.
- – Consumers and retailers throwing out food near or past its best-before date, despite the fact product dating practices “have no correlation to food safety” and the food can often still be eaten or donated.
- – Produce being left to rot in the field due to labour shortages, or low prices creating an environment in which it is no longer worth it for farmers to harvest.
- – Thousands of acres of produce being “plowed under” due to cancelled orders.
- – Fish being caught and tossed back into the water to die if they don’t match a quota.
While there’s not much you or I can do about the last three points, the first is incredibly avoidable and the second is merely a matter of not taking best before dates any more seriously than the flat earth theory. Best before dates are very conservative in order to completely remove all risk of someone eating actual expired food. They are literally a guide to when the food is at peak performance, not an indication of corpse status.
“Nothing happens at the stroke of midnight on a best-before date,” said Second Harvest CEO Lori Nikkel. “Best before doesn’t mean awful after.”
But it’s not just about convincing Canadians to extend the shelf life of allegedly expired food. Best before dates also create a stigma that prevents businesses from redistributing and donating food that’s no longer needed but still edible.
“We must demystify food which can be rescued from businesses and not call it waste,” Nikkel said. “This is unsold, this is surplus, this is excess food. It is perfectly edible.”
Perhaps most importantly, we must learn to value food again; to consider it a privilege, and not a right. Because that’s exactly what it is for the four million people in Canada who struggle with consistent access to food.