Hunger has always been an important and pressing issue. You can see it around Toronto today, and it has become an increasingly growing concern. As the price of food increases, more people choose to skip meals, in order to retain money for the rising prices of rent/shelter, phone bills, transport, and utilities [1]. There are families who do not earn enough to feed themselves, and even with food banks, many are struggling to eat on a regular basis. Food banks don’t have enough money to provide for everyone, and even when they do, they cannot afford to provide healthy food. Healthy items such as fruits and vegetable are often inaccessible to struggling families due to rising prices. The root cause? Food waste.  Food waste has grown into an overwhelming problem, one which must be urgently addressed; in Canada, food waste increased by 15% from 2010 to 2014 [2].

Food waste is growing by increasing amounts each year. The situation is so severe that close to half of the food produced worldwide doesn’t get eaten [3]. Instead, it is discarded in the process of finding the most perfect, unblemished morsels. Most of this rejected food is perfectly edible, but instead of being consumed, it is being thrown into dumpsters. The excessive waste also contributes to the increasing prices of fresh food.

One of the most prevalent examples of waste is found in supermarkets. Many supermarkets overstock on fresh produce, as the visual concept of “plenty” makes customers more likely to buy more product. The remaining produce that is not sold is then thrown away, often even before the food becomes spoiled [4]. One English supermarket went so far as to pour bleach onto its discarded produce to prevent the homeless from eating it [5]. Discarding so much of the available food, especially fresh produce, decreases supply and causes prices to rise; this makes it more difficult for food banks to acquire enough food, leading to potential shortages of food. This may force those relying on food banks to choose between not eating enough, buying unhealthy food, or simply paying more, perhaps sacrificing other parts of their family budget, to afford it.

The waste of viable food has become such a serious issue that early in 2016, the French parliament passed a bill banning supermarkets from throwing away or destroying leftover food, forcing them to donate any good quality food to food banks instead [6]. This is important because it funnels potentially wasted food towards food banks, providing more accessible and affordable food for the impoverished. Similar actions to reduce food waste have been taken globally. In Britain, various supermarkets, brands, and manufacturers recently signed a voluntary agreement to reduce food waste by 20% by 2025 [7]. Even some Canadian companies have taken action. Loblaws is selling “Naturally Imperfect” produce in various supermarkets, at a discount price [8].

Some argue that if we give unsold food to food banks, we will be feeding spoiled food to the people who eat there. However, this is highly unlikely. The majority of foods have at least one of three labelled dates: sell-by dates, best before dates, and expiration dates. When food is not sold in store by its specific “sell-by” date it will be thrown away, even if it is still edible or of good quality [9]. This sell-by date is often significantly earlier than the actual expiration date [10]. Even the best before date is only the manufacturer’s estimation of the food’s peak freshness, not an expiry date. If stored properly, food is still edible after a best before date [11]. Only expiration dates represent the day where food will most likely become inedible. Nevertheless, reports show that these different types of dates are often confused, not consistently correct, and often lead to more waste [10]. Particularly in supermarkets, food that would normally be thrown away past its sell-by date can be saved.

While many of these ideas seem straightforward, Canada still throws out more than thirty-one billion dollars worth of food each year [2]. The situation could also be improved by reducing the use of sell-by dates or donating food past its sell-by date to food banks. However, many supermarkets choose not to donate food, complaining that it costs them more to send the food to food banks than throw it away. Monetary incentives, such as grants or tax credits, would encourage businesses to take action. The Canadian government could also reduce food waste in supermarkets by establishing regulations. Other countries, such as France and Britain, have taken action, and so should Canada.

It is for us, the consumers, that so much edible food is being thrown away. With millions of people going to bed hungry each day, it is essential that we eliminate food waste.

Illustration: Sheri Kim

Illustration: Sheri Kim