As a revealing documentary about food waste has its Dublin premier, we take a look at how climate change is impacting food production, and find it difficult to stomach.
What’s in your fridge? Chances are, it will be full of supermarket-bought, plastic-wrapped food that’s the ideal shape, size and colour, and covered with ‘best before’ dates. It’s also a safe bet to assume that, when those ‘best before’ dates have passed, the contents of your fridge will become the contents of your bin, much of it still in its packaging and still looking pretty perfect.
A report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reveals that every year, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted – about 1.3 billion tonnes per year. This is an indulgence we simply can’t afford. As well as generating an unnecessary amount of waste, this attitude to consumption is unsustainable in the face of food shortages predicted to occour due to climate change.
Just Eat It Screening
Just Eat It, an award-winning documentary exposing the mountains of edible food going to waste, is having its Dublin premier this week. In the film (trailer below), foodie couple Jen and Grant survive entirely on produce that has been discarded – surely there’s a long-term solution for the rest of us, and one that doesn’t involve scrambling into wheelie bins?
Climate change set to reduce production
This mountain of food and packaging filling up precious landfill space is not the only cause for concern. Climate change is set to reduce agricultural output by around two percent per decade , and with rising populations meaning that global food demand is rising by 14% per decade, these statistics just don’t add up. Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods will become more common as temperatures increase, destroying crops and wiping out livestock. Floods in 2011 in Queensland, Australia reduced agricultural production by an estimated $500 – $600 million.
In addition, changing weather will dictate which crops will grow where, and warmer seas could pose a threat to fish stocks. Even biofuels, one of the proposed ‘green’ alternatives to fossil fuels, use crops like sugarcane and maize, diverting them from food production. All this will lead to higher food prices and, it is feared, civil unrest. Luckily, some scientists and farmers are already searching for solutions – from vertical farming that can be squeezed into urban spaces, to grapes that can withstand drought (because having to face climate change and a wine shortage at the same time would be the final straw.)
Self-evidently, we can’t afford to continue sending such large quantities of food straight from the supermarket shelf to the bin. We also need to start being smarter at the point of production, as agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. Most shop-bought food is wrapped in enough packaging to play Pass The Parcel, all of which has been manufactured in emissions-producing factories, and it often has travelled further than the person consuming it. Food transport accounts for a quarter of all heavy goods vehicle miles in the UK, which means it’s also responsible for a quarter of the CO2 and greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by those vehicles according to a Friends of the Earth report.
Worst of all is meat production. Apart from being producers of methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas, raising ruminant livestock (particularly cows) drives deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and elsewhere as the animals require vast areas of pasture for grazing. By the time the food arrives in your fridge, the damage is done: producing just one burger releases as many emissions greenhouse gases as driving a car for 10 miles, environmental group the Sierra Club calculates.
Before it all gets too gloomy, know that there is a happy ending in sight. The fact that Jen and Grant of food-production documentary Just Eat It are alive to tell the tale proves that the food we’re throwing away is definitely edible – if not quite as good-looking as the stuff on the shelves. Simple things like buying loose fruit and veg to reduce packaging, testing food rather than blindly trusting ‘best before’ dates, and only buying as much as you are likely to eat (rather than huge quantities just because it’s on offer) all help reduce waste. Sales of organic food that use little or no polluting pesticides are gaining momentum: Food Tank reports that ‘worldwide, organic food sales grew 170 percent to US$63 billion from 2002 to 2011′, with many people saying that organic produce tastes better. Buying local prevents excess fuel being used to transport goods, and also supports smaller businesses. Despite being a pressing issue, current climate change policies have little provision for impending food shortages, meaning that it’s up to us as consumers to start taking action. We’ve already got a lot on our plate with climate change – what starts with buying a misshapen carrot here or a local steak there will make a difference in the long run.
Featured image: By Taz [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Inset image: via www.extension.umn.edu/