‘You are what you eat’ we’ve all heard it before, it’s the mantra of parents all across the world trying to force the horror that is brussel sprouts upon their children. And although it may be true, something new I’d like you to consider today is that ‘You are what you don’t eat.’ You see, I believe that what we choose not to eat, and instead put to waste, says more about our society than what we do consume. Food waste is an issue which affects both people and our environment and today I want to shed some light on the scope of this issue, the magnitude of its effects, and what you can do to help put food waste to an end.
Having just shared in a wonderful dinner here, I think it’s important we remember that 1 in 7 people, are hungry. They don’t get the food that they need to live a healthy life. And yet, one third of all food produced on this earth is never eaten, never tasted, one third, of all food is wasted.
I have a few friends who work for a catering company at Sky City here in Auckland. And each night that they work, they are obligated, by company policy, to dispose of any and all leftover food. They’ve thrown out hundreds of plates of untouched, professionally prepared food. And all this happens only a 2 minute walk away from the Auckland City Mission distribution centre. It’s ridiculous, that this food can make it so close to the people that need it most and yet finds a home in a dumpster rather than their stomachs.
Why do we continue to regard hunger as one of the most difficult world issues to solve, when we can feed the world’s popululation with what we already have? According to the United Nations food and agriculture organisation, there is enough food on this planet to feed the world’s population. What’s preventing the end of world hunger, is the amount of food we waste.
Here in New Zealand, we waste $872 million of food each year. That’s over 100,000 tonnes, and surprisingly it’s not all perishable fruit and veges, most of it is bread. In fact, kiwis throw out about 20,000 loaves of bread a year.
In the gospel of Matthew it is written, Jesus used only 5 loaves of bread and a couple fish to feed 5000 people. Imagine the miracles that could happen, if we started putting the food we don’t eat onto the tables of the hungry, instead of leaving it to rot. Not only could we drastically reduce hunger in our community, we could also help save our planet.
When you throw away a loaf of bread, chances are you simply put it in the bin and move on with you life right? I think it’s a common misconception that the bin is a magical transportation device that swiftly takes your waste to a gaping void somewhere where it can’t hurt anyone. But sadly, that’s not the case. The bin may be the last time you see your waste, but it is not the last time you feel it’s effects.
All that food we’re putting into the landfill doesn’t just sit there taking up space. It continues to harm our environment as it decomposes, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas over 50 times as potent as CO2. The greenhouse emissions from food waste are so extreme, that globally, they exceed that of the entire aviation industry. That loaf of bread you threw away, is contributing to a carbon footprint larger than that of a jet plane. And that’s not all.
When we waste food, it’s not just the food itself that’s wasted, we waste the land it was produced upon, we waste the water it was produced with. 25 million acres of land deforested each year in order to grow food. 25% of all the freshwater consumed used to produce food that goes to waste.
There are people in this city, this country and around the world who are wasting away, and we continue to waste anyway. There are 80,000 children in our country going to school with no lunch, 80,000 children who can’t focus because their needs are not being met.
The good news is, we have power to help them.
‘Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou, ka ora ai te iwi. With your food basket and my food basket, the people will be well.’ This maori proverb holds the answer to ending food waste. It takes cooperation, both your food basket and my food basket, to reach prosperity.
I’m sure you will agree, that the only hunger you want to see in our community is a hunger for change. A hunger for a better world. But for that to become a reality we must address the issue of food waste, and address it together. We must bring our food baskets, our offerings to the table.
So I’ll leave you with a reading from the gospel of Matthew chapter 14 verses 15-16. 15As evening approached, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” 16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”