Words by Dave McNamara, CEO FoodBank Victoria
Each year Australians waste approximately 50% of all food that is produced in this country.
This is a truly staggering amount and a problem that could easily be blamed on the industrialised food system that dominates our food supply and marketplace. As individuals we may feel as though we have little control over the significant losses of food that occur throughout the supply chain, however, as consumers we can have an impact and take responsibility for this situation.
The best way for us to start tackling the issue is to start caring about what we eat. It was only after I investigated the industrialised food system that I started to understand the problem of food wastage at the consumer end.
Firstly, we are not paying for the true cost of our food and as the saying goes; you don’t value something that has no value. For me, it wasn’t until I started to mindfully connect with my food that I understood the relationship between what I ate and its direct bearing on both my physical and mental wellbeing. Once I recognised that my wellness was a direct reflection of the wellness of my food, I was no longer comfortable with cage eggs; non-pasture fed and grazed animals, or pesticide laden vegetables available in and out of season.
To quote ‘The world’s best farmer’ and food revolutionary, Joel Salatin, I wanted to taste the “chickeness of the chicken”. This meant that I had to move outside the industrialised farming sector to source my food. It was at this point that I discovered the true cost of food and its production – a cost I was happy to pay. I respected the farmers and producers who took the time and made the effort to respect the animal and the land. I acknowledged that I needed to pay for that respect, which in turn, led to a reduction in the food I was wasting.
Secondly, if you are looking to reduce your personal food waste within the industrialised food system, then your best approach is to ignore some of the date coding conventions currently being applied to foods, in particular ‘Best Before’ dates.
If you think that ‘Best Before’ dates are there as an indicator to alert you if food is safe to eat, you are wrong. These dates have very little to do with food safety and are placed there by the manufacturer to indicate the date they feel the product is at its peak. Many people are throwing perfectly good, edible food away because they are under the misconception that food that has passed its expiration date is not fit for consumption – food that Foodbank could put to good use.
We rescue this food before it reaches landfill and redistribute it to people in need. Our aim is to provide healthy food for all and last year we were able to distribute the equivalent of more than 14 million meals to people in need with food that would otherwise have gone to waste.
Australia’s food industry and federal government do need to review and change our date coding laws to minimise food wastage. In the meantime, you as a consumer can start making your own changes in your food consumption and waste habits.
It’s also important to remember that many people don’t have the luxury to waste food. Take for example Kelly, a mother of three young kids I met in the inner west recently who has to survive on just $4 a day to feed her kids. She can’t manage and relies on food supplied by Foodbank to feed her family. Unfortunately the number of people that need food relief is growing – 108,000 people a month are assisted in Victoria, yet food is continuing to be wasted.
We have enough food here to feed everyone, so let’s try to make sure people who need it have access to it. Foodbank will continue to work with the government and industry and I ask you to do what you can at home.
My advice is: connect yourself with your food, do not take it for granted, value it and respect it and you will find that you will not waste it.
If you would like to support Foodbank or make a donation please head to www.foodbankvictoria.org.au or call 9362 8300.
Previously a chef with professional experience in some of the Melbourne’s best known restaurants, Dave McNamara is CEO of Foodbank Victoria, an independent, not for profit organisation that delivers nutritious, healthy food to individuals and families experiencing hardship.