changing the waste conversation

Jonathan Bloom was the keynote speaker at our recent conference. Jonathan is a US-based journalist and consultant on the topic of food waste, who wrote the book American Wasteland and created the website Wasted Food. Jenny Marshall, sector group coordinator for WasteMINZ, reports on what he had to say.

We need to change the way we talk and think about food waste. That was the message from Jonathan Bloom in his speech.

Recently, food waste has gone from being an environmental issue “hiding in plain sight” to a topic that is gaining considerable attention from international policy makers, food rescue charities, concerned citizens and campaigns such as the local Love Food Hate Waste. With one-third of the world’s food going to waste and the average household in New Zealand throwing away three shopping trolleys of food per year, awareness of the issue has catalysed debate over the solutions to this global problem.

However, while these current discussions about food waste are constructive, Bloom argued that that we need to change the semantics of the conversation. Wasted food should become the subject, not food waste. He suggested that by referring to “wasted food” rather than “food waste”, we could remove the negative connotations of waste and instead highlight the missed opportunity which comes with wasting food – the meals that could have been made and the mouths that could have been fed.

This small shift, and others, such as replacing the “doggy bag” with the “goody bag”, can have a huge impact on people’s perceptions of food waste. Implying that people should take their leftovers home for their dog suggests that leftover food is unfit for human consumption. Conversely, calling the leftovers a “goody bag” suggests that they’re a treat to enjoy later; a reward for not wasting food.

We need to challenge the current social norms that encourage people to waste food without even realising it. So often parts of fruits, vegetables and animals go to waste because people subconsciously deem them inedible, without considering that they might in fact be perfectly fine to eat. Why don’t we eat apple cores? Because when we were learning to eat, someone probably told us that “we don’t eat that part”. Does there really need to be a distinction between the broccoli florets and the stalk – or should we just eat all of it because it is one vegetable and it is all edible?

It is more important than ever that the next generation connects with their food – that they have an appreciation of where it comes from, that they value it accordingly, and that they have the cooking skills to use it wisely. We need to ensure that they have the food knowledge to work out how long their leftovers will last for, what to do with limp produce and how to turn a few odds and ends into a meal.

As Bloom pointed out, this impending food waste crisis – one-third of the world’s food going to waste, while one in nine people are on the poverty line – might be considered a natural disaster if it wasn’t in fact man-made.

Food waste is a universal problem with local solutions. As New Zealand food writers it is up to you to lead – and even change – the conversation on wasted food and inspire and educate us to do better and waste less.