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Eat now, think later – an appetite for destruction

It is no secret that environmental harm is done each day, but who knew food was one of the main culprits? Veronica Lee looks at the consequences of food wastage.
The latest population health survey revealed about 300,000 Victorians are at some stage of the year, running out of food and unable to afford or access their next meal.

This problem of running out of food has been dubbed the term “food insecurity”.

Efforts to curb food insecurity are why Melbourne based organisations like FareShare exist. Set up in 2001, what started with a group of people collecting small portions of surplus food from catered events and providing it to charities, gradually built into a business.

With the help of funding, staff gradually increased, a call for volunteers was put out and a new kitchen was open. Also jumping on board were large businesses.

‘It’s a pretty simple concept; we rescue food that would otherwise be wasted. We want big businesses to collect surplus food, pour some of that into our kitchen and then give those meals out to charity, while saving the environment too,’ says Marcus Godinho, Chief Executive Officer of FareShare.

Today, FareShare has rescued an estimated 160 tonnes of food and has given away more than 340,000 meals.

A recent CSIRO study also found a third of the food we buy is discarded. In 2005, The Australia Institute put a dollar figure on national house food wastage. The report revealed Australian consumers threw away an estimated $5.3 billion worth of food, over half of which was fresh food.

Rebecca Lindberg, Research Officer of SecondBite, another Melbourne based food rescue organization, says the devaluing of food means more wastage across the system and a large portion of this food wastage occurs in the production aspect – before fruit and vegetables even leave the farm.

‘When it comes to moving food, human demand for perfect produce really plays a role and people don’t want anything with a bit of dirt or blemish. Overstocking and oversupplying also plays a role,’ says Rebecca.

Hungry people and empty pockets aren’t the only problem, food wastage impacts the environment on an enormous scale.

‘By throwing food out and not consuming food, we’re wasting the water used from our rivers to grow it, we’re wasting the diesel that was used to bring that food to market and we’re wasting the electricity used to process that food,’ says Marcus.

‘Landfill that breaks down the food results in a powerful green house gas called methane and that’s about twenty times more potent and powerful than green house gas and carbon dioxide,’ he says.

Sustainability Victoria revealed in its Food Wastage Avoidance report that consumers aged between 18 and 24 wasted the most food per week of up to 14.2 liters. Not too far behind were those in higher income households earning over $130,000 who wasted 12.8 liters per week. Surprisingly, families with children wasted the least amount equaling 9.8 liters.

There are currently over 500 Community Food Programs (CFPs) registered with VicRelief Foodbank, the state’s largest distributor of food relief. The level of support for these CFPs is limited, as they do not have sufficient kitchen infrastructure to accept enough available surplus quality food to meet requests for food support from within their community.

A comprehensive survey of 108 organisations associated with FareShare, SecondBite and VicRelief Foodbank revealed of the 108 CFPs, 21 per cent require at least one microwave oven, 44 per cent need better transport capacity and 54 per cent have insufficient refrigeration.

FareShare will be running the Feed Melbourne campaign again this year that aims to raise money to help charities collect, store and distribute food to Victorians in need.

Together with the Leader community papers, they hope to burst through their 2012, $500,000 target.

FoodBank Victoria also made a list of recommendations for the Government focussing on monitoring nutrition and waste. Among the recommendations were a national nutrition survey that would help to determine changes in consumption over time and monitor the effectiveness of interventions and campaigns. The other was a national waste survey that would audit waste all along the food supply system and enable the creation of waste reduction strategies based on sound science.

To tackle food wastage, Joey De Backer from the Dietitians Association of Australia reccomends planning meals for the week ahead and buying cheap healthy bulk foods, such as brown rice, rolled oats and lentils.

De Backer turned to Love Food Hate Waste for tips and spent only $25 on groceries per week. Outlined there were smart shopping tips, ways to help plan meals, how to make the most of cupboard staples and how to grow your own produce.

‘How we deal with our food system has wider ramifications. Australia could show so much leadership,’ she says.

FareShare also hopes to work with schools and get 8,000 students in their kitchen every year to help cook meals for charities.

Their main goal for 2012 is to cook 1 million meals using surplus food for charities.

Veronica Lee is a third year Journalism student at Monash and Editor at

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