Food Matters: Food waste is Shocking During a Pandemic, but it’s Old News Says One BC Food Waste Scholar

Posted on Thursday, 18 June 2020 under Stories

The average Canadian household spends $1766 on food that is wasted each year according to the report, “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste” from Second Harvest Food Rescue. Reducing food waste is one of the single most effective ways to reduce the overall greenhouse gas footprint of the food supply. During the COVID-19 global pandemic, there are many ways as eaters we can reduce food waste, save money and still enjoy a healthy diet.

Recently we spoke with Dr. Tammara Soma, food waste scholar, to find out what steps we can take as eaters and why we should care. It is clear when speaking to Dr. Soma that this is her passion and is reflected in our Climate and Food Story Series videos. Dr. Soma highly recommends exploring the Love Food Hate Waste website. With a focus on helping Canadian’s rediscover the value of food, you can find helpful planning tips, information on preserving food and best before dates, delicious recipes, and more.

The first thing you can do [to reduce food waste] is eat your food. Eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it. Buy what you need. Have a plan. Have a budget. Think about your week,” says Dr. Soma.

To buy what you need, start with taking an inventory of what you have. Look in the fridge, freezer and pantry and create a list and plan how you will use the food you have. Don’t forget to consider the days when you may choose to eat out and add those to your plan. Dr. Soma recommends trying to plan for 2 or 3 days because food is perishable. “Things have changed during the pandemic, if you need to stock up food, a good way to reduce food waste is to get frozen food. Frozen fruits and vegetables and frozen proteins is a good place to start,” she suggests.

Reducing food waste sounds simple. Buy what you need, save money, and do not purchase food that will end up just being disposed of. For eaters, it is important to understand the impacts that food waste has on our climate and also acknowledge that it isn’t easy.

A lot of things come into play. Children, time scarcity, being busy, stress. A lot of those things can impact the way you consume food or purchase food,” according to Dr. Soma.

Becoming aware, educated, and deliberately taking steps to reduce your own household waste is important. Beyond the basics of planning, eaters can also use technology to help fight food waste and save money. Apps like Flashfood allow users to quickly source discounted food at a grocery store near their location.

In this unprecedented time, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our eating habits and routines. We asked Dr. Soma what impacts that had on household food waste. “There are differing studies. It depends on when the study was conducted. One study that talked about food waste increasing was taken when people were hoarding. Our fridge can only hold so much and food is perishable unless you buy the hyper-processed kinds that can last a long time. Studies in Greece and the UK have shown that because people are home more they can manage their food a lot better. They are able to check back and see what they have. They are spending more time cooking. Pre-pandemic, is when people buy, people cook, but then people also eat out. So they are not eating the food they bought at home. But because people cannot eat out so much, they have to eat the food they bought at home. In general, people are eating more of the food they are making at home.”

Disturbing images and stories of culling and dumping of food during this pandemic have reached media headlines. To Dr. Soma, this is old news for our food systems. “Important to remember the global food waste issue is not very new. 30 – 50% of all food for consumption is wasted, about 1 trillion dollars worth of food annually [is wasted]. The fact this is so shocking to people, particularly because of the fact that a lot of people are unemployed, food insecurity is growing, lineups at food banks are growing. There is this [thought], why are we not making use of food right now. Why haven’t we solved this issue that has been happening for a long time.”

We have this paradox of 1 billion people hungry and 30-50% of the food being wasted. It has been with us for a long time. It is exacerbated now because people are being more sensitive to it because their circumstances have also changed.”

Dr. Soma feels like that in today’s context, people are realizing that food matters. “Food has been so commoditized to the point that it’s been divorced from everything that is embedded, from identity, to the landscape, to biodiversity, to the ecosystem.” She says, “I think what we realize [living through the pandemic] we do not have a resilient food system. When food banks are relying on retail waste and retailers are running out of food because of problems with distribution supply chains. When we waste [food] we are also wasting energy, resources, labour, everything that goes into food production.”

During this unprecedented time of the global pandemic, we are more aware of the challenges that face our food supply and the changes we experience daily as we shop for and prepare our meals. Our actions to reduce food waste are important. Small changes can add up and contribute to mitigating climate change.