Friday, 25 November 2016

Weekly Column: Food Waste is a Crying Shame

Food waste is a crying shame

About one third of the planet’s food goes to waste, often because it doesn’t look perfect. According to The National Geographic, that’s enough to feed 2 billion people.

That’s shameful.

According to the same article (, 6 billion pounds of US fruits and vegetables go either unharvested or unsold annually, often because the product isn’t flawless.

While families go hungry worldwide, tons of bananas get dumped for being too short, too long or too curved. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, enough food is squandered annually (about 2.9 trillion pounds per year) to feed the world’s 800 million hungry people twice over.

In developing nations, much of the waste is due to lack of storage, refrigeration or roads. But what is our excuse?

In developed countries, retailers might not accept imperfect looking produce. In other cases, it might get discarded due to overstocking. And, sadly, in almost every home it spoils in the fridge and gets tossed out without ever being served. Imagine the produce that you purchase at considerable cost manages to be marketed and then, at the point of consumption, gets forgotten or otherwise wasted. We are all guilty of this. Food waste, whether on factory farms, at the retailer, or in your own garbage, is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world (behind only China and the US).

That’s obscene.

Consider the amount of water, fertilizer, fuel and pesticides wasted to produce food that nobody eats. And yet the cost of groceries continues to rise and many people wonder how they will afford to give their children the healthy foods their growing bodies need.

Here’s how

The next time you see fruit or vegetables labeled “imperfect” and offered at a reduced price at your preferred grocery store, buy them. Get over the superficial need for things to be perfect. Yes, you want quality food. But does that mean all the potatoes in the bag need to be uniform in size? Carrots must be perfectly straight? Maybe it’s time to start cutting the worm holes out of apples and accepting some blemishes on our food. Nature does not and should not produce impeccable, flawless food. What it does is provide a bounty large enough for everyone.

If we expect one third of what is grown to be thrown out because it doesn’t look good enough, we are doing something seriously wrong. The only way to change the beliefs of retailers is to create a demand for less expensive, imperfect food. The only people that can create that demand is us, the consumers, and the power is in our wallets.

Here at home

According to the CBC, Canada wastes $31 billion in food per year. The average Canadian household throws out between $1000-1500 in food per year.


Don’t you think you could find a better use for that $1500? We are working to buy the food, then throwing it out and, in many cases, working more to pay for it to be accepted at the dump. You may not think that tossing that head of lettuce or that bag of oranges is costing you much, but viewed over a year or a lifetime you have to look at the consequences of buying food grown thousands of miles away, transported to a local store, then purchased and tossed in the garbage.

Stop the cycle

  • ·         Don’t buy 2 for 1 deals if you can’t possibly eat it before it rots. Better yet, buy it and donate or give away the excess
  • ·         Freeze what you can’t eat. Rather than watch your bread mould on the countertop, freeze it and use it slice by slice. Learn to blanch vegetables and freeze them before they spoil (immerse in boiling water for 10 seconds then rapidly cool in ice water and freeze—not rocket science!)
  • ·         Buying in bulk does not save you money if you often throw out unused portions. That 5 pack of Costco salad dressing is not cheaper when you throw two bottles away after their best-before date
  • ·         Use your discretion. Best before dates are an educated guess at how fresh a product will remain. If something smells foul, don’t eat it. Use a menu-plan to keep track of what needs used up and follow through by cooking and eating what you have
  • ·         Eat leftovers
  • ·         Rotate the food in your pantry and freezer to be sure nothing gets overlooked and eventually wasted
  • ·         Buy and demand “imperfect” fruit and vegetables at your local grocery store

Learn more about the food waste problem

If you didn’t catch the recent  Marketplace on CBC, you can watch it online. There is a documentary called “Just Eat It” available to watch for free on Watch these with your kids and finish your vegetables!


  1. Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I'd also like to say something about storage or ripening of fresh fruit/veg. This past summer and it continues even now, I bought fresh fruit and stored it appropriately (or how I've always done) in my fridge only to discover week after week that they had quickly ripened and gone bad - often developing mold within a couple of days of me purchasing it.

    I admit that I know nothing about the ripening cycles of fruit. But if I purchase an apple that is hard, I don't expect it to be mushy and soft in 2 days. Or to have mold on it!

    I felt really taken advantage of by the stores. If I had known that they were going to go bad so quickly, I would have chopped and frozen or bought less. I hate food waste and try so hard to avoid it although yes I am guilty of it.

    I admit that I am not brave enough to cut off mold from something and eat the rest. So let's add some education for consumers (me!) as well as honest advertising of what you are buying (looking at the three grocery stores I tend to shop at!) to aid in preventing food waste!

    Have a good weekend!

    1. You're absolutely right, Pru. I've had the same problem with produce, and even cottage cheese which begins to turn a gross brown colour long before the due date--eeww!! I've also had cream that was in solid chunks the day after buying it and weeks before the due date. In those cases I think you should be able to return the product to the store (not sure if you can or not!) but since we live out of town it is never cost efficient to bother. Very frustrating. I will find a good "how to store produce" graphic and do another post. I think it's a great money saving tool. But like you say, sometimes proper storage doesn't help with inferior quality or already spoiling food. The only thing I can think of that I will cut the mold from and continue to eat is cheese. But growing up on the farm I used to joke that we were all immune to food born illness because there were 5 of us and it got served whether it was suspicious or not ;) Nobody ever got sick. I now have to work the concession at the local skating rink and a mom told me it's amazing how people won't eat the potato chips if the go over the due date. When we were kids there weren't dates on chips! For things like that I figure if it smells okay and tastes okay, the date on it is subjective :)

    2. Always cut the mold out of cheese and keep eating :-) Never throw away possibly good cheese...says the cheese addict!

      Depending on the product as long as the date isn't too far gone, it should be fine. A few weeks and the chips are probably ok - over a month and they are probably stale (but would be okay to crush and use as a crunchy casserole topping!).

      Save the cheese! Save the chips! ;-)

  2. Dear goodness, those stats are horrendous!!

    Thank you for those great tips! I've never even considered blanching vegetables - I've tried to just freeze some in bags and it's hit or miss with the freezer burn (silly city girl, eh?) so the tip to blanche them will go a long way! I will also start browsing in the imperfect produce line as well - also something I haven't considered before.

    Your column reminded me of both ayay and boo moments I've had with food waste on a medium scale. The boo moment (or should I say moments) come from living in Hong Kong for a year after university. Every single piece of fruit and every vegetable was wrapped in foam. Every. Single. Piece. It was sickening. Every piece was uniform, shiny, and wrapped. I wanted to lose my mind every time I walked into a Western-style grocery store. I purposely made it a goal to learn more Cantonese just so I can shop at the local street stands in the side alleys where I could actually find food that wasn't completely enveloped in a form of plastic.
    The yay moment is discovering an organization called Second Harvest here at home. This food rescue program has a fleet of trucks that makes morning rounds picking up perfectly fine food that's either labelled "imperfect" or has gone past the expiry date (which we all know is often NOT when food expires) and then spends the afternoon redistributing it through over 200 charities and agencies as a donation. They have figures on their website that show just how much food waste they saved and how many meals they've provided to those in need. For your readers that happen to be in the Toronto area, I hope you don't mind me mentioning they always need volunteers to accompany the driver for pick-ups and drop-offs and they're a wonderful organization to support!

    1. I LOVE hearing about organizations like that--and I welcome the information and encourage anyone in the Toronto area to support Second Harvest however possible. I used to work at a women's shelter and it was wonderful how many local gardener's brought their surplus by. We would then distribute it to the men's shelter, food bank etc. The main thing is, don't let it go to waste!

      And yes, the thought of foam wrapped produce is enough to send me into a week long depression. My oh my how can we change these practices for future generations? It's hard not to feel completely powerless...

      But how cool that you lived in Hong Kong after university! Fascinating! Thanks for stopping by to comment!