The fight against food waste is a solution to the fight against global warming
Arash Derambarsh, food waste campaigner and Deputy Mayor of the French city Courbevoie, examines the complex relationship between food waste and food insecurity, offering a comprehensive view on how tackling these issues can contribute to environmental sustainability and societal well-being.
Food waste and food insecurity are two complex and interdependent phenomena.
Food waste is a major problem, both environmentally and socially. It represents a loss of valuable resources and can have a negative impact on people in food insecurity. Therefore, the concept of food insecurity is often reduced to the question of access to sufficient food in quantity and quality.
However, a broader approach is needed to take into account the social, cultural and political issues associated with food. By considering food insecurity through the prism of social and political factors, we are led to re-examine the legal issues that arise from it, as evidenced by the history of the right to food.
Nicolas Bricas, Damien Conaré and Marie Walser highlight the relational and political dimension of food, which transcends many domains and profoundly influences our world. Rather than considering it as an isolated domain, an ecological approach to food suggests using it as a lever to rethink our society in crisis.
That said, the consumer-citizen, a specific actor, must be convinced of the importance of fighting against food waste and appropriate this approach, thus underlining the importance of lifelong education, training and communication.
From this perspective, the causes of food insecurity are multiple and complex. They can be related to economic, social, political or individual factors.
In other words, food insecurity stems from various causes, including food waste, illustrated by the fact that 30 per cent of food products sold in supermarkets are thrown away, hence the emergence of “waste-eaters”, a phenomenon that is gaining momentum, by ideology for some (fights against the consumer society), by necessity for the majority (see: C. Rocher, The dumpster divers hunt waste by recovering what is consumable, 2009).
Similarly, an irresponsible diet, characterised by excessive meat consumption, has harmful consequences for health and the environment. That being said, according to a survey conducted by the Brussels Observatory of Sustainable Consumption, in 2001 ‘food waste amounted to 7.6 per cent by weight of household waste, of which 3.1 per cent of expired products and 4.5 per cent of opened products’.
The 2004 campaigns show a decrease in weight of the fraction 'freshly wasted' (from 30.4 kg per household per year to 23.1 kg per household per year) and an increase in percentage by weight of the fraction of opened products (from 4.5 per cent to 5.6 per cent) in household waste.
The opened products are mainly (more than 80 per cent of the flow): cooked dishes (33 per cent), bread (28 per cent), fruits and vegetables (22 per cent). The main expired foods are fresh fruits and vegetables (more than 60 per cent on average). Also, some 265 million tons of meat are produced annually for only 0.1 per cent of privileged eaters who consume annually the trifle of 100 kg of meat per person. And if such consumption is well beyond what our body requires and even proves to be harmful to health, it also comes with other deleterious effects. Because this livestock consumes 60 per cent of the world’s cereal production, or the trifle of 670 million tons, which therefore escape human consumption, occupies 78 per cent of the world’s agricultural land, or so many hectares that cannot therefore be devoted to the production of foodstuffs.
And what about when we learn that it takes 25,000 litres of water to produce 100 g of beef, while many populations do not have drinking water, which is essential for their survival? Or even that it takes 17 cal of vegetable food to produce 1 cal of beef? Then, food waste and food insecurity are two phenomena that must be fought in a concerted manner.
In fact, food waste, with its multiple ramifications, generates deleterious impacts on the environment, the economy and society, while posing an ethical challenge in the face of the persistence of hunger in the world. Simply put, food waste also has an impact in the long term. This compromises food security and climate stability on the planet. Indeed, food waste accounts for 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the emissions of civil aviation. It also contributes to soil degradation, overexploitation of water resources and loss of biodiversity. It finally represents an enormous economic cost, estimated at $1,000 billion per year.
Therefore, the fight against food insecurity becomes a complex challenge that requires a global approach. It must involve all actors of society, from public authorities to charitable associations, through businesses and citizens. A rights-based approach will therefore be essential to fight against food insecurity. It will consist of recognising the right of everyone to adequate and quality food. This will ensure that people in food insecurity have access to the food they need.
In the face of food waste, forms of citizen organisation have emerged to fight hunger, by recovering, redistributing or transforming food destined to be thrown away. These initiatives have taken various forms, depending on the actors involved, the modalities of operation, the objectives pursued and the beneficiaries targeted.
For example, food banks, created in the 1960s in the United States, collect the surplus from producers, distributors and consumers, and distribute them to charitable associations. Disco-soups, which appeared in the 2010s in Germany, organise festive events where participants cook and eat together fruits and vegetables that are unsold or damaged. Finally, anti-waste applications, developed in the 2010s, connect merchants and consumers, to offer them products at a reduced price before their expiration date.
The objective of this thesis is therefore to explore the historical roots and legal debates surrounding food waste, from antiquity to the present day, highlighting the various citizen initiatives to counter this scourge. Thus, in pharaonic Egypt, food was considered sacred and waste as a sin, according to the book 'Aux origines du gaspillage alimentaire'. In ancient Rome, on the contrary, waste was a sign of wealth and power, and sumptuous banquets were frequent, as reported by the article 'Food waste: what consequences for the planet'. In the Middle Ages, the Church condemned waste as a vice, and advocated charity towards the poor, according to the book 'History of food, from prehistory to the present day'. In modern times, waste was denounced as a waste of resources, and laws were enacted to limit it, especially during periods of war or famine. In contemporary times, waste was recognised as a major problem, and initiatives were taken to reduce it, both at the national and international level, as highlighted by the 2021 UNEP Report on the Food Waste Index.
This has led us to underline the need for an integrated and participatory approach involving the whole of society, from producers to consumers, through public authorities, businesses and associations. In addition, there is a need to broaden the concept of food insecurity by integrating social and political dimensions, thus revealing the legal issues in a new light. In this respect, the importance of education from an early age is emphasised, as well as the involvement of the citizen-consumer in the fight against food waste.
Thus, beyond the concrete efforts presented, it is important to call for a paradigm shift in the fight against food insecurity, recognising the identity, social and cultural dimensions of this issue, and redefining the contours of adequate legal protection for all. This leads to rethinking the food system as a whole, by promoting a more environmentally friendly production, a more equitable distribution and a more responsible consumption. It is also essential to strengthen cooperation between the different actors, from the local to the global level, and to raise public awareness of the importance of reducing food waste.
Finally, it is possible to draw inspiration from existing good practices, which show that it is possible to value unsold or damaged food, by transforming it into useful products or energy. In the end, it is essential to distinguish between simply guaranteeing access to food and guaranteeing dignified and sustainable access for all. Overall, this distinction reveals the complex issues related to the 'gastronomy of hunger' and underlines the need for adequate legal protection to fight against inequalities and social exclusions around food.
Indeed, all the scientists, data and international reports confirm that there is a climate emergency to react and take concrete action for change. Reducing food waste is one of the three main solutions to combat global warming.
We have a powerful lever to preserve Humanity. We will not say that we were not informed.