Addressing Food Insecurity, Part 3: Food Waste

August 28, 2020 | Marie Versteeg

Addressing Food Insecurity, Part 3: Food Waste

In past weeks, we’ve been examining food insecurity in the context of COVID-19, both at home and abroad. It’s clear that food insecurity has little to do with production and much to do with systems, including political and economic ones. Another systemic problem affecting food insecurity has been food waste. One third of the world’s food is wasted every year, at a time when world hunger is on the rise.

Food waste on a large scale has been exacerbated during the pandemic, but we can see signs of hope.

For instance, consumer behaviour has changed dramatically. By necessity, people are eating more meals at home, with the result that they are now focusing more on conserving their food, whether to save money or cut back on unnecessary grocery runs. The federal government has even issued pandemic-related resources on how to use up leftovers.

Reducing food waste is one of the best ways for consumers to help the environment. Historically, Canada wastes about 40% of the food it produces, and 47% of that waste happens in the home. We have a real opportunity to shrink those numbers, and there are already signs that people are interested in maintaining their newfound habits.

There’s opportunity for long-term change at the farm level, too, but government policy will have an important role to play here. A 2019 study by food rescue charity Second Harvest listed several causes of food waste on the farm, namely fields being plowed under because of labour shortages, cancelled orders or low prices. This report signaled the urgency of the problem before it was complicated by the pandemic

A no-brainer solution to both farm-level food waste and national food insecurity is to divert safe but unsold product into the hands of vulnerable populations. The federal government’s newly launched Surplus Food Rescue Program is a good idea that’s been a long time coming.

It’s been rightly pointed out that the benefit to farmers is minimal, covering only cost of production for the most part. But it’s a far sight better than ploughing fields under for lack of buyers, and it could be the start of long-term change.

Given that field-level food waste was happening before 2020, we can hope that government will see the value of continuing a surplus food program beyond the pandemic, especially now that operational structures exist. Time will tell whether there is political will to continue supporting a program that reduces both food waste and food insecurity.

Marie Versteeg is Communications Manager for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.