What Food Systems mean to Us
The global population is ever growing, creating an increased food demand. Coupled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now at the forefront of a great food system issue. There are more food insecure people now than ever before, more food being wasted now than ever before, and for the first time in years, our grocery bills are forecasted to increase sharply.
Unfortunately, while trying to meet the increased demands of consumers and navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the food service industry has improperly addressed the issue of food waste, which has resulted in a significant negative impact on the environment and economy. Roughly 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted on a yearly basis, not only amounting to an estimated cost of $2.6 Trillion USD, but also contributing to 8% of the world's carbon emissions in the form of methane gas, which is roughly 21 times more harmful than normal carbon dioxide emissions. (http://www.fao.org/3/a-bb144e.pdf?fbclid=IwAR13cooPP0zHk5-kmZ631wJGZwbqTxOSrpncjcAXM1aiN2TAPKAemlnD3W4)
Now that the issue of food waste has been identified let’s shift focus to what a food system is and what does it encompass? The University of Oxford defines a food system as “a complex web of activities involving the production, processing, transport, and consumption.” Oxford, highlights that “issues concerning the food system include the governance and economics of food production, its sustainability, the degree to which we waste food, how food production affects the natural environment and the impact of food on individual and population health.” (https://www.futureoffood.ox.ac.uk/what-food-system)
As we are a Kitchener-Waterloo Region-based business we decided to focus on our local food system. The food you see at the grocery store comes from a variety of sources. We receive food from local farmers, manufacturers, while also food being imported from all over the world. We also have processing plants across the country that prepare and process our food to be safe for consumption. This created a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic because there were shocks to the global supply chain. In the US, they reported dumping 14 million litres of milk daily at the peak of the pandemic (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/covid-19-food-waste-mountains-environment/).
The next step in the food system is how people receive food and then consumption. In Canada, there are a variety of ways people receive food: from the grocery store, from a variety of food outlets like restaurants and cafes, and then through shelters and food banks. In Kitchener-Waterloo we are lucky to have some amazing businesses like Zero Waste Bulk and Full Circle Foods, which offer groceries and other bulk food goods, while also reducing food waste and plastic waste by reducing packaging. As well, we have The Food Bank of Waterloo Region that operates a Community Food Assistance Network. This network is a system of over 100 community programs and agency partners that provides food and other services to those in need in our community. In 2019, The Food Bank notes that 1 in 20 households in Waterloo Region experienced food insecurity and 34,552 people from the Waterloo Region accessed hunger relief programs. (https://www.thefoodbank.ca/about/). Food insecurity is a huge problem worldwide and especially with the pandemic more people are becoming food insecure. It is amazing to see organizations like The Food Bank of Waterloo Region help members of our community not only access food but other essential services. (If you would like to donate please check out their website: https://www.thefoodbank.ca/donate/)
A huge problem that no food system is immune to is food waste. In Ontario, almost half of food waste occurs before it reaches the consumer and annually Ontario throws away over two million tonnes of avoidable food waste. Source: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/01/20/ontario-food-waste-problem/. It is estimated that every Canadian throws away 170 kg of food each year. When you break down where the food waste occurs across the food system in Canada: 10% occurs at the retail level, 10% occurs from farming, 20% in processing stages, and almost 50% occurs at the household level. Think of it this way: for every 5 bags of groceries you buy, imagine you just threw 1 away.
At Food Fight we aim to highlight the people and organizations that are helping reduce food waste and our investing in food sustainability. However, it is frustrating to see that there is enough food produced to feed every person globally, however food insecurity and hunger still exist. This is a problem that is only going to get worse because of the pandemic and we urge everyone to take it seriously because the impacts of food waste and food insecurity impact society on a number of levels.
Scialabba, N. (2015). Food Wastage Footprint & Climate Change. Retrieved December 31, 2020, from http://www.fao.org/3/a-bb144e.pdf?fbclid=IwAR13cooPP0zHk5-kmZ631wJGZwbqTxOSrpncjcAXM1aiN2TAPKAemlnD3W4