Different Problems, Different Solutions: Food Waste and Household Food Insecurity

You’ve likely been hearing a lot more about food waste lately. It is a significant problem and not easy to fix.

There are many reasons that food is wasted at every stage from land and sea to our kitchens. For example, a late frost may kill a tender fruit crop; tomatoes are bruised on their bumpy way to the grocery store; or businesses or individuals may buy more food than they can use.1

Wasting food is not good for the environment. Across North America, annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from wasted food are approximately 193 million tonnes.2 That’s a similar amount to the GHGs generated if 41 million cars were driven on the road continuously for a year!2 Those emissions come from the wasted energy needed to process, store, transport, and dispose of food, as well as from food decomposition – all of which add up to a significant contribution to climate change.

Wasting food also wastes money. In Canada, an estimated $31 billion of food is wasted every year.3 If we include other costs associated with that waste food (e.g., water, energy and labour), then that estimate balloons to $107 billion.3

Wasting food impacts our entire food systems. The cost of wasted food for farmers and grocery stores3 can result in costs passed on to consumers and public institutions (e.g., schools, hospitals), making it harder for us all to afford healthy foods on lean budgets.

As we begin to explore ways to prevent food waste, the idea of rescuing food and redistributing it to individuals experiencing household food insecurity is also getting more attention. At least 3 million Canadians experience food insecurity and it affects 1 in 6 children in Canada.4 Like food waste, household food insecurity is a significant and complex problem with serious social, economic and health impacts.

However, household food insecurity and food waste have different root causes that require different approaches.5 Household food insecurity is rooted in income poverty and to truly address this issue over the long-term, we need social policies that enable all people to have adequate livable incomes to meet their needs.5 And, we need to focus efforts on food waste to prevent it from happening in the first place.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t short-term opportunities to rescue good food. For example, “ugly food” (or seconds) can be nutritious and tasty, but don’t necessarily meet grocery-store standards. There is an emerging movement to encourage households and businesses to buy and use these seconds in healthy meals, like soups, or freeze or preserve food.

As another example, Nova Scotia recently introduced a program to provide farmers who donate unsold produce to food banks with a tax credit, increasing the amount of healthy, local food available, something most food banks struggle to provide.

These scenarios are very different than some of the food donations made in the name of food insecurity, such as the donation of low nutrition foods (e.g., day old pastries) to food banks or school meal programs. Some short-cuts download the cost of food disposal from the private sector to those most vulnerable, as well as add to their health burdens and stigma.6

Instead, we need to use a holistic approach to transition to a healthy, just and sustainable food system for everyone. Initiatives should ensure that there is availability of and access to culturally appropriate and personally acceptable foods that support healthy, active lives, social justice, dignity, equity, and self-reliance. Preventing food waste is not the solution to preventing food insecurity, but we can do more to address both.

Adapted from material developed in partnership with the Halifax Food Policy Alliance.

Blog written by: Satya Ramen, Senior Coordinator, Our Food Project, Ecology Action Centre

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program at https://www.ecologyaction.ca/ourfood

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1. Gooch, M.V., Dent, B., Felfel, A.S., Vanclief, L., and Whitehead, P. 2016. “Food Waste: Aligning Government and Industry Within Value Chain Solutions.” Value Chain Management, International.

2. Tremonti, A.M. 9 April 2018. “How bad is Canada’s food waste problem? Among the world’s worst, report finds.” The Current. CBC Radio: Toronto.

3. Gooch, M.V., Felfel, A., and Glasbey, C. 2014. “$27 Billion Revisited: The Cost of Canada’s Annual Food Waste.” Value Chain Management, International.

4. Tarasuk, V., Mitchell, A., and Dachner, N. 2016. “Household food insecurity in Canada, 2014.” Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF).

5. Mansfield, B., Power, E., Riches, G., Soma, T., and Tarasuk, V. 2015. “Issue Brief: Finding Effective Solutions to Reduce Food Waste and Food Insecurity in Canada.”

6. Somma, T., and Li, B., 2017. “Discussion Paper: Food Waste in Canada.” Toronto: Food Systems Lab.

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