Collectively, we waste a lot of food. Food we buy but don’t eat, food we grow and ship but stores assume no one wants, food left on store shelves or discarded because the “best before” date is coming up. These are just some of the reasons that perfectly good food ends up in landfills. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 32 percent of all food produced in the world was lost or wasted in 2009. But some people and places are taking steps to reduce that amount—and France is one of them.
New French Laws
As reported by The Guardian, last year the French government passed a law that requires supermarkets to give unsold food to charities or organizations who will use it for animal feed, rather than throwing it out or destroying it. Companies are required to form contracts with charities to whom they can give the unsold food.
It’s not the first action the country has taken. In 2015, France also voted to remove the “best before” date on food meant to last a while, such as rice and pasta. The entire European Union has proposed making the move widespread across member countries, in line with their declaring 2014 “the year against food waste.”
Best Before vs. Consume Before
The thinking is that many consumers do not recognize the difference between a “best before” date, before which the food is thought to taste the best but is not an indication of spoilage, and the “consume before” date or “expiry date” on meat and dairy items, which indicates that the item is highly perishable and shouldn’t be eaten after that date. For more on the differences between these labels, check out this excellent episode of the podcast 99% Invisible.
Another interesting development is that several grocery stores have begun selling misshapen fruits and vegetables, instead of tossing them. French supermarket chain Intermarché brought attention to the issue with its highly lauded “inglorious fruits and vegetables” advertising campaign, promoting their sales of ugly fruit. It was a huge hit.
Just Watch It
A Canadian documentarian couple is also trying to bring attention to the issue with their 2014 documentary “Just Eat It” (It’s a must-see—check out the trailer here). They attempt to live off food destined for landfills for six months and were surprised how easy it was.
This is an issue that not limited to a particular region, though it’s most acute in industrialized countries. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that one in four calories intended to be eaten in the United States goes to waste. About 20 pounds of food per person per month is wasted, and organic waste is the second most common item in landfills, where it contributes to the creation of harmful methane gas.
What Can We Do?
Awareness of the issue is a good start. It also helps to understand the difference between before date and expiry dates and other terms. Make a list before you go to the grocery store, and stick to that list. Always check the fridge before you go to the store, so you don’t buy items you already have. Don’t judge odd-looking fruits and vegetables by their appearance. Unless it’s rotting, how a carrot looks doesn’t determine its nutritional value. Or its taste.
What do you do to reduce food waste? Let us know on Twitter at @luvoinc and in the comments section below!