There have been a spate of recent articles casting a growing spotlight on the massive problem of food waste in North America. This is in part to a somewhat radical concept being launched by Doug Rauch, the former president of massive US-based food retailer Trader Joe’s. Rauchs’ new venture, The Daily Table, is a dual purpose restaurant/retailer that will process “expired food” into nutritious consumer ready meals. The first will be in the Boston area, and will ambitiously tackle two problems at once; reducing our food waste and bringing healthful, affordable meals to some low-income urban food deserts.
There have been recent studies that indicate around 90% of Americans (and probably Canadians as well) throw out perfectly good food, and a shocking 40% of food supply goes unused, primarily due to our troublesome food dating systems and consumers ‘delicate’ visual sensibilities. Somewhere around 40 MILLION tons of food gets rejected annually in North America, either in grading, production or ‘expiration’. The photo below is of Grant Baldwin, a Vancouver area filmmaker who ate only clean, wrapped, discarded food for 6 months and recorded his experiences. Their film, Just Eat It , is currently in post-production and slated for a Spring 2014 release.
According to a recent Globe and Mail article by Sylvain Charlebois, Associate Dean at the College of Management & Economics at University of Guelph, this problem is compounded by food manufacturers using best before dating to their advantage. They are in effect, coercing distributors and retailers to manage their inventory on the manufacturers terms, sacrificing food products that are still healthy & nutritious for the sake of increased profitability and simplified production schedules.
A classic example often listed is that of honey, a borderline magical elixir that never truly goes bad. The reasons are in the chemistry of honey; a pH of between 3 – 4.5 and extremely low moisture level do not allow for bacteria to develop. It may crystallize and become rock hard, but that is nothing that a little heat cannot remedy. In fact, the oldest honey ever found was in the country of Georgia, dates to about 5000 years ago, and by all accounts is still quite edible. This begs the questions, why is the honey I purchased yesterday “Best Before” May of 2015… a scant 18 months from now?
The folks at Thrillist compiled some of the dedicated, unenviable, and massively important work being done by the food heroes at Eat By Date into a handy info-graphic… It’s good guide start to put things in your fridge to the ‘smell test’ and do your part to reduce your households food waste.
Now, this is not an open call for everyone to start dumpster diving and going full-bore Freegan. It is just a little nudge to think and sniff twice, and not only reduce your household waste, but also your grocery budget.