Having been a picky eater as a small child, some of my earliest memories go back to when I was thoroughly taught from my mother the philosophy of gratitude towards food and the efforts that were put into it. Now that I grow up to realize the literal grandiosity and the scale of efforts being put into the food industry, from the farmers and the resources being used, the manufacturers, the retailers and transportation, semi-consumers (restaurants and processed food factories) and consumers, and the amount of all that being thrown away while just 25% of it can feed all the 795 million people who suffer from hunger, I know that this is one of the most dire problems needing to be solved in today’s society.
This investigation will take you to different levels of the food industry in which waste occurs and study real life cases in the perspective of game theory. I will then propose the specific and attainable acts that each of us can take to participate in the anti-food waste movement. But before we start anything, let’s see how much we know about food handling methods and the amount that we can save from not wasting food by playing the game below:
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 30% to 40% of food in the world is lost annually, and 90% of them goes to landfill. When food is packed with no oxygen, they start to rot and produce carbon dioxide and methane that cause greenhouse effect. If wasted food was a country, it would be the third largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world after the United States and China. Not only is food waste wasteful, but it is harmful.
And as for Indonesia, where I live, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, it is the world’s second largest food wasting nation, with nearly 300 kilograms of food waste per person each year. This is tragic considering that 87 millions of Indonesians still have food insecurity. From interviewing my school cafeteria manager Mr. Gerald Zemke and his staffs with close inspection of weekly records of food waste types and weight, I found that in my community, only a little portion of the waste results after the food reaches the consumers’ plates (16-18 kg per day, and there are about 1000 students in our high school, although some of them would eat food from elsewhere). This made me believe that a lot more waste occurs in pre-consumption stage, during storage and transportation, during selection of farming products, market display and larger scale intentional loss of crops when there is a surplus.
Why does this problem concern us? As we will discover, food waste is not only morally disturbing when we realize its scale, but it is environmentally and financially a loss. The total food waste by consumers in industrialized countries (222 million tonnes) is almost equal to the entire food production in sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes 1). Selina Juul, anti-food waste activist who reduced 25% of food waste in Denmark within 5 years, told BBC, “Food waste is a lack of respect. For our nature, for our society, for the people who produce the food… and the lack of respect for your own time and your money because you throw the food away that you’ve been buying.2” According to the Rethink Food Waste (ReFED), an average American family of four wastes 430 kg of food and purchases $1,800 worth of food that they would end up not eating. Collectively, this is a $165 billion loss for the US3. Food waste is a big financial bummer for all of us.
Through this exploration, I have learned about the scale of this problem that was more massive and disturbing than I expected, but I have also realized how deeply the choices of us consumers are involved in each level. It is my aim to communicate the latter realization as best as I can to you, the power that each of us have in bringing a systematic change to the industry that will affect our lives and those of our future generations.
Food Waste: From Consumer to Retailer
This problem has complex roots from economic balance to consumer psychology, and need to be divided into smaller parts. My plan is to analyze this problem starting from a more relatable level for us consumers then moving backwards to the conflicts occurring in transportation, processing and selecting steps of food industry.
i. Modelling the Retailer-Retailer Competition Regarding Food Display Quality
For the following matrix, I will examine the conflict between the small scale food retailers (supermarkets) in deciding whether to sell food products that do not reach the demanded visual quality (color, shape, size, weight) or have passed the “Best By” dates, or themed foods ( e.g. Halloween cookies) past the holiday season (this reason is also one of the main reasons that retailers discard food4).
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 2.7 billion kg of food are wasted each year because they are “ugly”— bruised or lack in vibrancy of color5. The markets compete by displaying mountains of products, much more than what they can sell before they spoil, to target the consumer psychology of being tempted to buy more products when facing such abundance. And according to NRDC and Harvard, food expiration date confusion leads up to 90% of Americans to waste food6. The “Best By” or “Use By” dates are established through companies’ lab tests and taste testing, but consumers should understand that they are very conservative agreements. Sometimes, small companies that cannot afford taste or laboratory tests, may use data from other companies of similar products, using others’ expiration dates to make a guess7. The only federally required and regulated food dating involves infant formula, as nutrients in the formula deteriorate through time, and while most states in the US have food dating rules, they differ to a great extent8. This implies a lack of unified regulation and investigation upon dating of other food products, that there is no true consensus upon the dates regarding food safety, and thus these dates naturally leads towards the most harm-proof claims. Even so, food can spoil before this prescribed date if handled and stored incorrectly, as it depends on various complex factors such as the storage method of temperature and time exposed after opening. Laboratory-found dates are limited in taking account of the different interactions of these factors in different households, which is why it is a valid argument to make that food dating itself is a largely faulty concept. The best way to ensure food safety is through proper handling method, and relying on the more basic yet accurate safety test, testing the food’s smell and taste. Dana Gunders, scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council explains that food spoiling comes from contamination, not natural decay. She adds that our senses are likely to catch on molds and rancid smells that take place when food spoil9. The claim that food past expiration date can safely be consumed is taken cautiously regarding meat, poultry and seafood products, as with UK Food Standards Agency’s advice10, but for vegetable and fruits, which are categorized as foods that are the most wasted (refer to diagram below), “Best By” dates imply quality more about than safety, as Robert Gravani, Ph.D., a professor of food science at Cornell University claimed11. Produce that are past “Best By” dates may lose vibrancy in color and have stale texture, but with proper cooking method, they can be enjoyed equally. With simple solutions that consumers can take (refer to What You Can (And Should) Do section), a lot more food can be saved.
Here in my model, each retailer has the choice to either not display (throw away) products that are perceived to be inferior, to sell them at a normal price or to sell them with a discount. In most countries, there are no laws against selling or distributing food past its expiration date12. In the US, with the exception of infant formula, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not forbid selling food that is past the expiration date on the label. But of course, if the consumer gets sick from eating the food purchased from the market, they may be able to receive compensation money. However, it is not really about legality that is an issue if that happens, it’s about consumer trust, which is why supermarkets will still be careful to ensure that we don’t get sick from what they sell. Thus, if the retailer displays food past expiration date, it will be with safety awareness. Here, should the retailer throw away the products, there will be a loss of $300,00013 per year. Should only one of the two retailers14 display these products at regular price, we will assume that the retailer will lose about a third of its customers to the other retailer, losing $2,402,40015. The matrix becomes:
ii. Solving the Model of Retailer-Retailer Competition Regarding Food Display Quality
This game is solvable through movement diagram, a pure strategy method (method that finds a solution that recommends each player to pursue only one strategy). One Nash equilibrium is found, when both retailers sell the expired/imperfect products at a discounted price. A Nash equilibrium is when both sides of the players do not have a better choice that could have been made given the other player’s strategy, thus no incentive to change their decision. Here, the Nash equilibrium implies that when both retailers sell these products at a lower price, neither of them are willing to change their decision. The Nash equilibrium here also consists of strategy that is the most dominant for both retailers, which suggests that selling low perceived quality products at a discount is always the best choice to make. The Pareto optimal, which is the outcome in which there is a maximum benefit in total accounting for all players, occurs in multiple places, where one retailer sells at discount price and the other at normal price, or where both retailers sell at normal price and suffer no loss of profit. The following payoff polygon illustrates where the Pareto optimal outcomes exist, at the upper right edges of the polygon which indicate highest payoffs for both players. The points F, H and I are pure strategy solutions, and infinitely many mixed strategy solutions (solutions that recommend players to use a combination of different strategies) lie on the lines that connect the three points.
This game is not strictly solvable, which means that the solution where both retailers are satisfied with their choice given each other’s decision, and the solution where they benefit the most altogether are not coincidental. The reason that (0,0) cannot be a Nash equilibrium is because if a retailer knows that the other retailer is selling products of low perceived quality at regular price, he/she will try to take advantage of the situation by either selling better perceived quality products or the same products at lower price, and bring in more customers. So which solution out of the two should be recommended?
iii. Evaluating Theoretical Solution of Retailer-Retailer Competition Regarding Food Display Quality
A problem in suggesting the Pareto optimal solution in which both retailers sell expired/imperfect products at normal price is that we are assuming that the consumers will still come to the supermarkets if both retailers sell food of lower perceived quality at normal price, “because they have no choice otherwise”. As can be imagined, this is not true, as consumers have innumerable number of options of local groceries that they can visit, and they also have the choice to reduce their consumption of processed products and convert to only buying the necessary raw produce to cook themselves. Indeed, unlike what this model suggests, the two retailers here could both lose their customers to other numerous retailers. The other Pareto optimal outcomes are not feasible, as it would require for one retailer to choose a disadvantageous strategy given the other retailer’s strategy for certain, and no retailer would agree to ensure that this happens. Even if a retailer sells expired/imperfect products at normal price, once he/she realizes that the customers are diverting to other retailers, he/she would compete by choosing another strategy, such as discounting the products. Eventually, both retailers would stabilize themselves on the Nash equilibrium.
For this reason, a more realistic solution is to open up the market of lowly perceived food products at a cheaper price, possibly also benefiting citizens of lower incomes. Salvage groceries and restaurants that sell food that would otherwise go to waste due to being surplus, expired or not matching aesthetic standards, are in trend these recent years, as consumers are increasingly becoming aware of the misleading food dating system and finding their products much cheaper.
Also, is price the only motivation for the consumers? As we will see from the following real life cases, environmental friendly and waste free campaigns have also spurred consumer interests. A suggestion is for retailers to re-educate the consumers about expiration dates and the scale of food waste problem. In developed countries, consumers are increasingly learning about such issues and are seeking towards long term sustainability. The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) made the following recommendations to retailers and the Congress regarding food dating16:
- Making “sell by” dates invisible to consumers, as they indicate business-to-business labeling information and are mistakenly interpreted as safety dates;
- Establishing a more uniform, easily understandable date label system that communicates clearly with consumers by 1) using consistent, unambiguous language; 2) clearly differentiating between safety- and quality-based dates; 3) predictably locating the date on package; 4) employing more transparent methods for selecting dates; and other changes to improve coherency;
- Increasing the use of safe handling instructions and “smart labels” that use technology to provide additional information on the product’s safety
Applying these findings by the NRDC and Harvard, in 2014, Walmart surveyed people to find which label indicated most clearly quality and not safety, and found out that “Best If Used By” was the one. The company changed all of its suppliers’ labels (except a few highly perishable foods with “Use By” dates that do indicate safety), and launched a 30-second video at its checkout counters explaining the new labels and and offering tips to reducing food waste at home17. Like this, retailers themselves can educate consumers, sponsoring chefs to demonstrate how to cook with leftover scraps, dinner events and free soup using scrap/imperfect vegetables, gaining social media attention, promoting for a good cause and attracting more consumers. Let us model this situation where the retailers are now given the choice of selling foods that are expired or have low aesthetic qualities, but with consumer education, and observe if there is a change in the solution that we get.
iv. Modelling the Retailer-Retailer Competition Regarding Food Display Quality with Consumer Education
A golden rule in game theory is that for altruistic act to evolve, a win-win situation should be a possibility. Particularly for a giant, highly profit-driven company such as Walmart to introduce a drastic change in their system, there should exist a potential benefit (and for them, monetary) that surpasses the risk. And not only is Walmart taking this risk, so are Nestlé, Kellogg, Campbell and PepsiCo18. We ask ourselves then, from where is this prospect of benefit coming from? For consumers in highly developed countries, whose monetary demands are more or less fulfilled, their motive diverts to other values such as health and moral replenishment as well. It is their moral incentive and public support that translate into the monetary incentive of giant corporations to change. Watch the video below to understand the factors that affect consumer choice in our digital era.
Source: Food Marketing Institute
According to the 2015 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) study, 84% of global consumers (consumers with middle-class mindset and are engaged with digital society) said that they seek responsible products when possible, and 57% would even be willing to buy product of lower quality if it was more socially or environmentally responsible19. With this, I modelled the situation below where expired/imperfect products are still objectively less preferred compared to non-expired products meeting aesthetic standards, but with consumer education, instead of a 1:1 ratio between the number of customers that buys from a retailer that sells expired/imperfect products at a discounted price and a retailer that does not sell these products, this ratio will now become 57:43. And when a retailer sells these products at same prices as the other retailer that doesn’t, but educates the consumers the importance of reducing food waste, it will start from 57:43 ratio to losing a third of the consumers, so this ratio now changes from 33:66 to 38:62.
We realized that in the previous model, strategy B, which is selling products with discount, was the best strategy in all cases. Instead of solving this model through movement diagram as we did before, we will see if there is a clearly dominant strategy in this model as well. This game is symmetrical (the two players have the same list of possible strategies and payoffs in each outcome), so the dominant strategy for Retailer 1 must be dominant for Retailer 2 as well. As we mark the best payoffs for Retailer 1 under each strategy that Retailer 2 plays, like this,
…we find that D is indeed the best strategy at all times. Naturally, both players will play D, selling these products at a discount and with consumer education, which is the Nash equilibrium of this model. Again, the Pareto optimal outcomes are different from the Nash equilibrium. In this model, the power of consumer education does not overcome the consumer’s preference of buying better-looking food products at equal price (E is still dominated by A). However, it does bring the payoff of the retailer who sells expired/imperfect products at a discount to positive payoffs at most times (compare payoffs of D with those of B), which implies that the gain of consumer education in attracting customers overcomes the loss occuring due to selling these products at 40% discount. Of course in our Nash equilibrium, where 2 out of 2 retailers play D, neither of them can attract more consumers than each other. But again, in real life, we have many, many retailers in the market. In our society where salvage groceries are still far less than supermarkets that pile mountains of attractive and perfect produce, this result implies a hope for competent, flourishing, and increasing number of salvage groceries.
And we really need for this number to grow. According to 2016-18 Unilever study, only 33% of consumers actually buy from brands that are doing social or environmental good20. Why the drop from 84% willingness to 33% action? Referring to the CSR study again, 81% of global consumers said that site availability is their #1 barrier in seeking for responsible products. For Walmart, availability is not an issue. But it is yet challenging for smaller retailers to promote their good action to attract consumers. Even so, this places more emphasis on consumer willingness to go forth and beyond to demand anti-food waste policies and seek for salvage markets. My hope is to facilitate consumers in locating these individual discount groceries through the map that I have compiled through research, embedded in “What You Can (And Should) Do” section of this conference. In 2016, France became the first country to ban supermarkets from conveniently throwing away unsold food past expiration dates, forcing them to sell these products at their own means, if not donate to food banks even if it requires some delivery costs. Now supermarkets bigger than 400 sq metres have to contract donation with charities or be penalized with €3,750 21. Policy changes such as this come with public support, and can truly be a gamechanger.
Food Waste: From Retailer to Processor and Supplier
As much as food waste occurs at different levels, one should consider how there are some differences between developing and rich countries’ main causes of food waste. In developed countries, like the US, more waste occurs at the previous (retailer and consumer) level, and selling or distributing of surplus/expired/imperfect products along with consumer education become the most effective solutions, while in developing countries like Indonesia, waste occurs more at one or two stages beforehand, due to lack of technology and unsafe handling of food during transportation and display.
Credit: Modern Farmer
i. Delivering Perishable Food Between Farmers, Processors and Retailers
We will now tackle the level between processors and retailers, farmers and processors. Most of the food waste at this level occur due to inefficiency of transport, particularly in countries with high and humid temperature, where a lot of food gets perished or lose the initial qualities that match the standards during transportation, or during storage due to a lack of refrigerating system. This is where application mathematics such as game theoretic methods and optimization algorithms can shine. In the past, I have investigated about how ant-based algorithms enable for efficient transportation of multitude of vehicles without causing traffic jam, such as AntRoute program that designs paths for vehicles of Migros (Swiss supermarket chain) 22.
The main improvement needed to alleviate food waste at this level would undeniably be of technology, particularly for packaging and delivery. In the Philippines, improved rice bags have helped cut losses of the grain by 15 percent23. Time used during intermediary process such as organizing inventories can be cut down, to increase efficiency and reduce perishables. Companies like Whole Foods and Target are already using softwares to input their store layouts and having deliveries from farms custom-organized in their stores’ shelving sequence, so that retailers do not have to rely on manual intermediary workers to move and sort goods. And the major reason this solution will be highly feasible is because softwares like this, once designed, require very little maintenance cost. When considering solutions like this, the ultimate question may be: so who pays for it? Who pays for the packaging and design of software? Is it the farmer? The processor? The retailer?
ii. Analyzing Division of Responsibility Regarding Improvement of Food Delivery
In game theory, when multiple players have to work together to achieve the best outcome for all, the payoff that they get altogether are not always divided equally. But they have to be divided fairly, and this is where Shapley’s value come in. Shapley’s value is a concept that divides the collective payoff of a coalition of multiple players according to the payoff that individual players would have gained should they have played alone. Let’s apply this concept directly to the case of delivering goods to match the store shelves sequences.
For the farmer, it would be good if all of his produce are put to use instead of spoiling midway and being wasted, but there is no monetary loss that he has to suffer once he supplies the contracted quantity of food. On the other hand, the processor and the retailer should be really concerned about how much food can actually reach their destinations in good condition. They want to minimize time of the transportation, sorting and organizing of the products, particularly if the refrigerating system is not great. Let’s assign the payoffs to the farmer, the processor and the retailer should they work by themselves, that is, when the players do not cooperate in unifying their location layouts and organization of products. The payoff of a farmer’s emotional loss when his produce are being wasted is difficult to quantify, but the loss that the processor and the retailer have to suffer can be estimated from how much percentage of food is wasted during delivery. The following data is from page 27 of 2011 Global Food Losses and Food Waste report47:
In producing cassava chips, one of the most enjoyed snacks in Indonesia, if 19% of roots and tubers are lost during postharvest handling and storage before reaching the processor (chips factory), and an additional 11% before reaching the retailers for distribution, assuming that most happen due to spoilage, we can assign the processor the payoff of 100-19=81 and for the retailer, 100-11=89. On the other hand, a cassava farmer in Indonesia may not be too concerned, or even fully aware of his labor going to waste before reaching the plates. His payoff will be arbitrarily assigned 100-2=98. If only the farmer and the processor collaborated, 80% of the cassava that would have been spoiled in that stage is saved, and the farmer is more satisfied, the total payoff that they get will be 100-(19*0.2)+99=195.2. If only the farmer and the retailer collaborated, it would reduce some extra labor and time later on, but because the intermediary processor is not cooperative, only 50% of cassava is saved out of 11%, with some satisfaction of the farmer— 100-(11*0.5)+99=193.5. If only the processor and the retailer collaborated, 80% of cassava is saved out of the latter 10% that would have been lost during the processing stage, and the total payoff would be (100-19)+(100-(11*0.2))=178.8. Lastly, if all cooperated, 80% of cassava would be saved from both postharvest handling stage and processing stage, and the farmer would be fully satisfied, (100-(19*0.2))+(100-(11*0.2))+100=294. Now, we need to divide this payoff into three. Listing all the possible coalitions of players and their payoffs, where v(F) indicates the payoff of the farmer playing the game by himself, v(P) for processor and v(R) for retailer,
v(F) = 98 v(P) = 81 v(R) = 89
v(FP) = 195.2 v(FR) = 193.5 v(PR) = 178.8
v(FPR) = 294
Now, we will find all combinations of the farmer, the processor and the retailer collaborating but in different sequences, and see how much a player adds to the group’s payoff by collaborating. We can find how much a player contributes by newly joining the coalition by subtracting the old payoff before he joined from the new payoff after he joined. How much would the retailer add by collaborating if the farmer and the processor were already working together? This value would differ from how much the processor would add by collaborating and laying the bridge between the farmer and the retailer that were working together.
|Order of coalition||F||P||R|
|Sum of contribution||645.1||550||568.9|
This table shows that the farmer contributes the most to the group should they collaborate, and that the players should divide the payoff of 294 according to the ratio 645.1:550:568.9. And this translates into that because the farmer contributes the most by collaborating, he has the right to invest less for this collaboration to happen. Our conclusion is that the processors and retailers are more responsible for the cost required in saving food at this transitioning level between multiple players, the cost of developing technology in packaging, transportation and software, because if collaboration does not happen, the processor and the retailer will be hurt more than the farmer. Cooperation and communication is key in this relay chain, just as it would in a real sports race. Finally, as we will continue to find, win-win cases are not that rare after all in this problem of food waste.
Food Waste: On the Field
i. The Dilemma of Surplus
Lastly, big scale losses of food should be investigated on farms. Even excluding the portion of food being damaged by severe weather or pest infection, when foods do not reach the demanded market quality such as weight and appearance (again!), farmers have no choice but to throw away their products, or not harvest them at all, leaving them to rot25. Similarly, 2.3 million tonnes of fish caught in the North Atlantic and the North Sea are disposed every year because they do not match the standard size or species 26.
Credit: Modern Farmer
Another reason for massive disposal of food is because when farmers reach contractual agreements with their retailers, and if they fail to supply the agreed quantity of products, it may lead to cancellation of contracts. Because of this, farmers tend to produce more than what is required in fear of losing the retailers, which is then simply thrown away 27. A farmer in Michigan posted on Facebook a picture of his cherry harvest forced to go to waste by the federal regulation in order to increase the imports and maintain the price of cherries28. In 2016, dairy farmers were forced to pour out 43 million gallons of milk (enough to fill 66 Olympic swimming pools) due to excessive supply29. Surplus here is incomparable in scale to the surplus of food cooked in households— it is a surplus, a remainder, but a massive one. “If just 5 percent of the U.S. broccoli production is not harvested, over 90 million pounds of broccoli go uneaten. That would be enough to feed every child that participates in the National School Lunch Program over 11 4-ounce servings of broccoli. If just 5 percent of broccoli is not harvested, that represents the wasted use of 1.6 billion gallons of water and 450,000 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer (a contributor to global warming and water pollution). And let’s not forget about the energy, pesticides, land, and other resources that went into growing that food. All told, it would amount to about a $12 million bill for broccoli farmers 30.” Lastly, farmers are forced to abandon entire fields of crops due to a lack of labor, as was shown when apple farmers in Washington lost up to 25% of their harvest due to shortage of workers 31.
Marc Santucci, farmer, posted on Facebook a picture of his cherry harvest forced to go to waste by the federal regulation.32
So why don’t we distribute this excess produce to the needy for free? This is because for individual farmers, just the transportation of food is unaffordable. Processes of locating food donors, transporting, storing, packaging foods, training paid or volunteer workers, all of these ultimately aren’t free. “Second Harvest, the Nation’s largest domestic charitable hunger relief organization, spends more than $5 million annually transporting food from fields, restaurants, and supermarkets to local food banks that serve the needy 33.”
ii. Evaluating Theoretical and Practical Solutions Regarding Gleaning Practice
As the scale of surplus increases, large systematic changes should be taken. Communication is key. Since most of the surplus happens when farmers overproduce due to a lack of information about the economic trend of demand and weather prediction, retailers should contact directly with the farmers, or at least encourage intermediaries to collaborate more with them 34. Incentive to donate any remaining surplus should also increase. In 2012, California started giving a 10% tax credit to farmers for their food donations, and Colorado and Arizona offer similar incentives 35. This kind of legislation should cover more states and more products.
Food waste actually has a great business potential, due to how much money is being lost regularly (and with a smart idea, how much of it can be converted to a gain). FoodMaven, a company founded in 2015, buys overstock from supermarkets and delivers them to local buyers with huge discounts while they are still fresh. This is a win-win opportunity (a non-zero sum game in game theoretic terms) for all players, as the buyers can get cheaper food, and suppliers can gain more revenue from their overstock, and the community reduces landfill waste. While individual farmers may be underfunded to distribute their surplus, companies that are already preparing to buy products from farmers can significantly benefit from this opportunity. Recognizing this, the Department of Public Health and Environment of the state of Colorado granted FoodMaven $383,000. After selling as much as product as possible, FoodMaven donates the remaining product with hunger relief centers, and holds its zero-landfill policy. Experts say that FoodMaven’s success was in testing community by community, city by city, before targeting a larger market 36.
Case Study: Stop Wasting Food Movement in Denmark
We will now take an overview of this problem and how us consumers and citizens can help bring larger legislative modifications and changes in the market, by inspecting a case of Denmark. This country too suffered large food waste problem, particularly in the retailer and post retailer (restaurants, households) level. But due to the work of activist Selina Juul’s Stop Wasting Food movement, Denmark has achieved a national reduction in food waste of 25% in 5 years from 2010 to 2015. Juul brought a multifaceted plan. She started by setting up her Facebook page with “little things like encouraging people to make a list before they go to the supermarket or take a picture of the inside of your fridge with your phone, if you have no time”. Like many other European countries, Denmark had a cultural stigma against take-outs, where with the term ‘doggie bags’, people were embarrassed to pack foods for themselves. Noticing this, Juul pledged 300 restaurants to rename their service as “Goodie Bags”— a simple, cheap, yet long-term and psychologically effective solution 37. She also triggered the foundation of WeFood, that sold surplus/expired foods at cheaper costs38. Then came the app Too Good To Go, which paired customers with restaurants and bakeries coming to closing time, allowing them to fill a box with food at much lower prices. 3 months after she set up her Facebook page, the biggest low-cost supermarket chain in Denmark, Rema 1000, agreed to replace its quantity discounts (e.g. Buy two get three), with single item discounts. That was in 2008, and now, every grocery chain in Denmark have a strategy to tackle food waste, such as reducing the loaf of bread into half size. Juul believes that consumer awareness has really spiked in Denmark. WeFood is struggling to stock its shelves because businesses that contribute unsold food find they have less to give away. And Too Good To Go have become so popular that restaurants are having to turn people away 39. The uprising food waste fighting trend is now spreading from Denmark to other countries in Europe such as France, UK and Germany, then to the US. Find more about Juul’s story here.
Can the same success be transferred to other countries, like the US or Indonesia? Critics scrutinize that organization and large scale management is key to reducing food waste. But Denmark is a small country, with its population equal to Wisconsin’s. Also, food is expensive in Denmark, as according to US Department of Agriculture, Danes spend about twice what Americans do on food 40. This gets younger generation to be active in developing food-saving habits, from when they are students. Lastly, cooking from scratch at home is still a very relevant culture in Denmark even for younger generation compared to many other developed countries. “Denmark is a small, relatively homogenous, social-democratic country that is used to making some decisions based on the common good and constraining individual choice,” says food sociologist Krishnendu Ray at New York University 41. This success may not transferable as well to other countries like the US (which is massive), he says. However, I believe that this concern also translates into that once the consumers are willing to change, the system will follow. It is much more challenging for that initial change of citizen mindset to occur in larger countries of different economical and cultural environments. But what if we do change?
What You Can (And Should) Do
As can be seen from Juul’s campaign, an individual’s conscientious actions can trigger large scale changes in the system and the policies, and today, especially with the help of social media. “Stop Food Waste works because we present solutions, not just problems,” says Juul. Here are some of the solutions that Juul and other food activists and experts have suggested:
1. Plan out your meals in advance, with an eye to utilizing the most ingredients.
2. Be realistic. Shop just what you need, even if, especially if you see “Buy _ Get _” sales. Limit buying foods with these labels to long-preserving foods like chips, or staple foods like cereal. Also, keep portion sizes reasonable. You can’t control what you’re served at a restaurant, but you can at home.
3. Make a shopping list. Check what you already have before you go shopping. Take pictures of the fridge if you don’t have time to write.
4. Get seasonal local produces, as they last longer than something that was shipped from far.
5. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Shop cheaply and with pride (especially since many of us are going off to college and will need to save budget). Here is the map to show you all the groceries, cafes, restaurants that save food that would have otherwise gone to waste due to being surplus, expired or not matching aesthetic standards. You can get these food at a much cheaper (30%~70% discount) price. Feel free to add more that you found in your community to this map, by clicking the upper right expanding icon and clicking ‘edit’.
6. Use delivery service. This will really cut down costs of impulsive buying, and ensure that you receive the necessary staple foods regularly (also improving your diet habit!). Hungry Harvest and Imperfect Produce delivers produces with unique shapes and sizes across the U.S. if you order online with 20~50% discount. Perfect.
7. Store food properly. Always pop leftovers in your freezer. This guide is comprehensive and helpful in giving handling details of each type of food.
8. Keep note of your perishables. Put up a whiteboard or laminated paper on your fridge, and write the perishable items there (produce, dairy, meat) and erase each one when it’s gone. You can also use this to keep note of other things, such as your meal planner.
9. Keep apples, bananas, citrus and tomatoes away from other fruits and vegetables, as they give off ethylene gas that makes others deteriorate faster.
10. Reorganize your fridge so the most perishable items are most visible. Find more tips to organizing your fridge for efficient and effective storage.
11. Get your family a smart fridge by LG or Samsung, that help keep track of perishable food, alerts you when something is about to spoil, and give suggestions to devise recipes.
12. If your produce starts to go soft, put it in a cup of cold water for an hour and it’ll regain much of its life. You can also extend a couple of weeks of life to herbs, kale and Swiss chard by untying them, and putting them in a knotted plastic bag with 2 tablespoons of fresh water.
13. Get creative with scraps. Use them to make stock. Baking can use up fruits and dairy on the verge of expiration. Stir-frying is a great way to use up a jumble of mismatched ingredients.
14. Clear our your UFO– finish your “unidentified frozen object” once a month.
15. Celebrate the ‘Sunday leftover tapas’- if you’re going away, you give your neighbour everything in your fridge – and offer for them to do the same for you.
16. Have gleaning trips to farms– get produces for yourself free, distribute the rest to the community. Here is just one gleaning community in the US, but there are many, many more.
18. Join a volunteer service trip to distributing food from hotel buffets. Contact one of these 59 organization in the US fighting against food waste to see how you and your community might be able to help them.
19. Join or host a disco soup party. Fill bellies (and ears) instead of bins.
20. Spread the knowledge. For example, host a screening of Wasted! In your school, community center or workplace
These are free apps to help you with the missions above. Enjoy!
Here are the free informative printables for you to use in matching your goals:
Meal Planner (Source: Plant-based Cooking) (print, laminate, stick on your fridge, write with board marker)
Out of all the food wastes that consumers with our living standards create, the most comes from our cherry-picking of foods that look nice and are far from expiration dates. This pursuit is expressed in the market even when we are unaware of it. Tristram Stuart, food activist, asked to the audiences during his TED talk.
“Can I have a show of hands if you have a loaf of sliced bread in your house? Who lives in a household where that crust — that slice at the first and last end of each loaf — who lives in a household where it does get eaten? Okay, most people, not everyone, but most people, and this is, I’m glad to say, what I see across the world, and yet has anyone seen a supermarket or sandwich shop anywhere in the world that serves sandwiches with crusts on it?”
“If we picked our friends the way we selectively picked and culled our produce, we’d be very lonely,” said farmer David Matsumoto43. Caroline and Cyril Roux, farmers, asked if consumers would consider the fact that, even when a vegetable is not perfect, it has been cared for and harvested by real people trying to make a living to support their family, and that the flavour of a less attractive vegetable is the same as other more attractive “top models”44. The Roux family invites anyone to pick up their excess courgettes for free before they are spoiled.
The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency’s joint goal is halving the food waste in U.S. by 203045. Experts say that food waste will not be reduced in a sustainable way without a broader cultural shift. And in that sense, says Figueiredo, campaigner of @UglyFruitAndVeg, there’s yet a long way to go. “From a cultural standpoint, it’s about valuing food,” he said. “We don’t really value food enough to not waste it so much. But we’re at the very beginnings of progress.” The responsibility, according to Figueiredo, ultimately falls on all of us collectively, along all points of the food supply chain. “This is a matter of us deciding if we want to do this,” he said46.
I conclude this conference, with the imagery that my mother imbued in me when I was a child. She told me that every grain of rice was worth a drop of a farmer’s sweat. This created a picture in my mind, of a farmer bending down, causing a bead of sweat to roll down his cheek and quickly disappear in a gust of wind, just to pick up a grain of rice that has fallen from the bag. My maternal grandmother, who is too generous when it comes to providing for others and especially her grandchildren, is a kind of a person who drinks the water used to rinse the finished bowl of rice or noodles. I remember staring at her in astonishment, with admiration, not having been delighted with the taste of murky water when I tried it myself. At some point, I think we began viewing food as numerical values, of quantity, of time, of size. But nature is supposed to vary; it is supposed to be in quirky shapes, and it does not have a set expiration date; food safety has always been about how, not when. So I feel like it all comes back down to how we start regarding our foods— not as numbers, but as the manifestation of people themselves, who sweat under the sun and are disheartened during severe climates, who climb up the ladders to store the stock in the shelves, who exhaust their wrists by repeatedly flicking the frying pans. Our game will change. But first, we must.
Schnippeldisko (Disco Soup Party), Credit: Minikoche
Please contact the writer of this conference for questions or more ideas to help combat food waste:
Student in Jakarta Intercultural School, Indonesia
13. According to Value Chain Management International, Canada wastes $31 billion worth of food per year, and 10% of the waste is by retailers, and 7,755 grocery stores existed in Canada in 2015— after calculation, this gives about $399,742 loss per store, which translates to roughly 300,000 USD.
14. In real life, this game is even more difficult to model due to having not two but many retailers competing, depending on complex factors of geographic location and types of food being sold, targeting a specific population.
15. An average grocery outlet market earns $140,000 per week, according to National Grocers association in the US. The calculation of this loss is as following: -(140000*52)*0.33
26. Stuart, Tristram (2009). Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal: The True Cost of What the Global Food Industry Throws Away. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-103634-6.
27. Stuart, Tristram (2009). Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal: The True Cost of What the Global Food Industry Throws Away. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-103634-6.
42. If this is not applicable, you might consider contacting the local compost producer to collect your community’s organic waste. Last month, I contacted our Head of Facilities in Jakarta Intercultural School, to connect with Waste4Change, a waste collecting organization that sends organic waste collected from different regions of Jakarta to farmers that produce and sell compost.