A closer look at that rotten papaya - facts on food waste

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ImageI'm getting a lot of satisfaction lately from this blog, and here is the very last example: in response to a rather light posting simply calling attention to an ingenious awareness campaign, I received this comment from reader S.Y. which provides actual data, links to recent, relevant reports, and makes a solid connection between food waste, development, and the East Asia & Pacific region:

"Despite its personal perspective style, your article on food waste awareness is very relevant to both the food crises recently making the headlines and the Bank's EAP region.

You are hardly alone in housing that ugly peach. Food waste occurs at different levels of a chain extending from harvesting to consumption. Household food waste is, as you point out, a relatively recent phenomenon in many developed countries (what the Bank delights in calling the North). This was publicised in July 2008 when Gordon Brown urged Britons to stop wasting food. The U.K. report "Food Matters" http://tinyurl.com/ypmpxq  says consumers in this country throw away 4.1 million tonnes of edible food (worth an average of £420--USD836 or €533 at today's rate) per household per year. Nearly a decade ago, a U.S. report estimated an annual waste of 10 times more, 41 million tonnes, of edible food at the consumer and food-service levels in that country! (Kantor et al., Food Review 1997 20:2-12).

Some blog readers may not be aware that non-trivial proportions of the ready-to-harvest food is lost during harvest processing, storage, and transport. The article on post-harvest food losses in "World Resources 1998-99" by the World Resources Institute (Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 152; also available at http://tinyurl.com/6puntp - pdf) describes that, although losses estimates are admittedly controversial, total post-harvest losses generally ranged between 10% and 40% just before the end of the 20th century. More relevant to EAP, the article also describes harvesting and post-harvesting losses in this region. For rice, between 5% and 16% percent of the harvest in the Philippines was lost in the harvesting process itself (cutting, handling, threshing and cleaning), and an additional 5% to 21% was lost in drying, storage, milling and processing. Rice post-harvest losses in China were between 5% and 23%; in Vietnam they were between 10% and 25% under typical conditions, and between 40% and 80% percent under more extreme conditions.

It is in the 'cosmetic' aspect of food acceptability by the consumer where North vs. South differences are more obvious because of the higher selection standard of more affluent societies. But rather than limiting the options to buy more in less trips (and waste more food) or to buy less in more trips (and waste more petrol), the waste by the affluent consumer may be reduced by more realistic shopping plans and by better refrigeration storage (placing items in the storage bin with the label for the items goes a long way).

Also, North consumers should be less picky about demanding perfect produce. Grievously, these are the same people who pay through the nose (often literally) for a dish of canard faisandé in the overpriced French restaurant outside France and -- bien qu'ils s'en pourlèche les badigoinces -- happily call the partly rotten meat 'gamey'."




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