SAVE FOOD: Initiative mondiale de réduction des pertes et du gaspillage alimentaires

Global Collaboration for Sustainability

07 Jul 2017

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently hosted a unique educational session entitled ‘Global Collaboration for Sustainability: The Food-Water-Energy Nexus’, in partnership with a graduate class in Organizational Dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania in the United States.

The goal of the session, which emerged from research in food waste and food security emanating from Expo Milano 2015, was to bring North American, European and global perspectives and those of the USA together to examine the food waste component of the food-water-energy nexus against the background of the global challenge of sustainably feeding nearly 10 billion people by 2050.

The session, coordinated by agricultural officer Makiko Taguchi, assembled three experts from FAO –Lucie Pluschke (water-energy-food nexus officer, Land and Water Division), Stefania Bracco (consultant, Climate and Environment Division), and Camelia Bucatariu (food waste technical officer, Nutrition and Food Systems Division). Also in attendance were three thought leaders in food waste from the United States: Steven Finn (consultant and affiliated faculty at the University of Pennsylvania), Jonathan Bloom (journalist and consultant), and Andrew Shakman, co-founder and CEO of LeanPath – makers of integrated smart metres for food waste reduction.

FAO’s Lucie Pluschke began the session by setting the framework with a discussion of the common vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture (SFA) – and why it matters! Pluschke described the “unprecedented confluence” of pressures that food and agricultural systems are facing – including increasing population, rural poverty and malnutrition, degradation of natural resources. She also explored climate change and its impact on vulnerable people, and the “linkage” aspect of resources – i.e. as pressure for resources grows, actions in one part of the system increasingly affects other parts of the system. She followed by outlining five principles as part of a holistic approach across sectors to make agriculture, forestry, and fisheries more sustainable. These principles include efficiency, conservation of natural resources, improving rural livelihoods and equity, improving the resilience of people, communities and ecosystems, and responsible governance. Pluschke also discussed FAO’s approach to the water-food-energy nexus, which goes beyond resource footprints to visioning the sustainable development of food, water, and energy systems. Pluschke also discussed the potential for a small water footprint associated with healthy diets, noting that evidence suggests that dietary patterns that have low environmental impacts can also be consistent with good health (which is good news for sustainable food production).

Stefania Bracco discussed how energy technologies can help to reduce food loss and waste through a review of the INVESTA project (Investing in Energy Sustainable Technologies in the Agrifood Sector). Examples included reliable access to power for improved food processing and cooking techniques in off-grid areas as well as optimized and appropriate food storage facilities with temperature control (e.g. biogas powered chillers). Bracco noted that energy-efficient Agrifood systems can address several Sustainable Development Goals, and discussed the financial and non-financial benefits of energy interventions in three value chains in the developing world (milk, rice, and vegetables) over two phases.

Following Bracco, Camelia Bucatariu discussed the prevention and reduction of food loss and waste at both global and local levels. Bucatariu’s discussion took place within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and food and nutrition security. She noted the importance of addressing climate change due to its impact on the food system’s ability to provide sufficient nutritious food for the global population, and pointed to several ongoing programmes to reduce food loss and waste across regions.

Steven Finn, Jonathan Bloom, and Andrew Shakman brought a North American perspective to the discussion with a specific focus on the challenges and opportunities in food waste. Their presentations were solutions-focus and organized around three critical themes: cultural change, education, and prevention.

Steven Finn began with an overview of cultural issues (drivers) behind excessive food waste in the USA – including expectations of large portions, ‘perfect’ produce, excessive variety, 24-hour availability, and relative inexpensiveness. He noted that these factors have created a culture of abundance around food (a rapid shift from norms of prior generations). This, Finn argued, was exacerbated by the fact that most Americans are disconnected from their food like never before, and have lost touch with its value. Finn suggested that an urgent ‘values re-set’ is needed, noting that organizations involved in food loss and waste reduction activities have a unique opportunity to harness global momentum around the issue at this time. He closed with several recommendations to change the cultural dynamic and reduce food waste, such as educating consumers, committing to addressing ‘tough’ systemic challenges, thinking big (viewing food waste as a solvable problem), and leveraging the power of stories, daily observations, and the common desire for a better future.

Jonathan Bloom followed with a discussion on food waste in education, with a focus on moving from problem to progress. Reflecting on what occurs in our school lunchrooms daily, Bloom noted with irony that rather than educating our children to reduce food waste, they are socialized into wasteful behaviour daily via subpar food, inappropriate lunch logistics, all-you-can-eat models, and the prioritization of highly visible, easy food disposal – all of which devalue food. At the same time, he noted that opportunities are being missed to empower children to become change agents against wasted food. Bloom closed with several suggestions for change to end inappropriate ‘food waste education’, including making more time for lunch, shifting recess before lunch, marketing food better (such as item naming and placement), improving food quality, increasing opportunities for sharing and redistribution, and more.

Andrew Shakman concluded with a focus on moving from awareness to action on wasted food, beginning by noting that despite the fact that nothing connects communities more than food, vast amounts remain wasted. Through a food service and hospitality lens, he noted that while food waste has long been the ‘elephant in the room’ (i.e. kitchen), the tide can be turned on the issue by engaging front-line kitchen workers to change organizational behaviour. He pointed to five costs of food waste in the food service sector which spell opportunity, namely the cost of the food itself, the energy and water that go into producing it, labour costs of preparation, disposal costs, and lost sales and profit. He then listed several root causes of food waste in institutional kitchens along with options to reduce it (addressing overproduction, purchasing differently, adjusting menus, training staff, etc.). Shakman further noted that food waste is a behavioural problem, and that successful prevention requires that everyone (especially front line workers) repeat the same behaviours at scale. He also pointed to the importance of measurement to effectively manage food waste, and the great need to shift the food waste conversation upstream (from recovery) to prevention, while also engaging businesses in responsible production to avoid overproduction.

In sum, this session prompted an excellent exchange of global and North American perspectives on food-water-energy nexus issues, as well as a dissection of the challenges and opportunities in food waste. Both sides learned from each other, illustrating the benefits of collaborative, mission-aligned discussions that are essential to achieving the Sustainability Goals. The session also inspired several new change agents among the attending graduate students.