A recent United Nations report has revealed the shocking figures around global food waste, with up to one third of all the food in the world being lost or wasted. Rightly, some people are taking individual action against such a wasteful system, part of a movement known as Freeganism.
Many Freegans are vegetarian or vegan, and others identify as “meegan” – a person who will eat meat products that would otherwise go to waste. Unbelievably, nearly half of all the fruits and vegetables produced, as well as roots and tubers, are not eaten. 35% of all fish and seafood, and 20% of all meat and dairy also never see the dinner plate. Developed countries are the biggest offenders, but the trend can be seen in developing countries too.
There are numerous reasons for these figures, which produce huge amounts of greenhouse gases, industrial scale animal cruelty, squandering of resources and destruction of habitat for almost no reason whatsoever. One major factor is food appearance, with producers over-emphasising how produce looks, resulting in 3.7 trillion apples deemed not fit for consumption every year.
The freegan movement, by its very nature, is anti-consumerist, with followers opting to reuse, recycle, share, barter and forage instead of buying. Wherever possible, food that has been thrown away for no good reason can be recovered and eaten. But do you have to go diving through dumpsters to be a freegan? Not at all. Everyone can make better use of websites such as Freecycle or Craigslist, handing down clothes through families, and generally avoiding buying new products. The savings can be enormous, and the movement is growing.
So where does this leave the food industry? In developing countries, food is wasted in the early stages of the food value chain, due to infrastructure problems, such as storage and cooling. But in medium- and high-income countries, food is lost and wasted at later stages. Better coordination between actors in the supply chain, such as farmer-buyer agreements, can contribute to reductions in this wastage. Ultimately, however, the major difference in these developed nations is that consumer behaviour can have a huge impact, and if more consumers acknowledge the freegan message, then producers and retailers will adapt accordingly.
At present, it is estimated that almost 800 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. As the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations puts it, “Raising awareness among industries, retailers and consumers as well as finding beneficial use for food that is presently thrown away are useful measures to decrease the amount of losses and waste.” Taking heed of the freegan philosophy can only be beneficial for a greener, fairer and more efficient future.