Bernardo M. Villegas
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Food Stolen from the Poor (Part 1)

          Pope Francis could not have been more graphic in condemning the “throw-away” culture, especially as it refers to the scandalous food waste that is happening worldwide.  In his encyclical Laudato Si (On Care of Our Common Home) he categorically rejects the thesis that population growth in developing countries is to be blamed for widespread poverty.

         In paragraph 50 of the Encyclical he writes:  “To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issue.  It is an attempt to legitimise the present models of distribution where a minority believes that it  has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalised, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.  Besides we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and ‘whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.’ “

         Some may think that the Pope is being very harsh in talking about food wasted as equivalent to “stealing from the poor.”  This is just part of his over-all premise that an excessive reliance on free market capitalism “kills.”  Free market capitalists do not intentionally do things to hurt the poor.  Their sins are those of omission.  For example, in the case of food wasted in the free market environment as we shall see below, the main reason for the waste is carelessness, the complete disregard for the collateral damage that is  being inflicted on others by their actions, even if not intended to directly hurt the poor or hungry.  In  Christian morals, sins of omission or neglect can be as culpable, even  mortal,  as sins of commission.  Christ was very clear when He said that because you did not do it for the poor, you did not do it for me.  “Not doing it” is negligence, carelessness.  This must be kept in mind by all whose actions have a direct or indirect impact on others.

         As presented in a conference held in Tagaytay in May 2019 by WWF-Philippines, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tons!—gets lost or wasted.  Of course, the greatest human evil of this waste is, as Pope Francis wrote, that it is food stolen from hundreds of millions of people all over the world who are hungry or undernourished.  But the issue of global food waste is not just about consumers throwing away food that can still be eaten by others.   The problem of food waste starts at the very beginning of the food production process which includes the growing of crops and  livestock and even the processing of the raw materials into finished food products. We must keep in mind that agribusiness is a broader concept than agriculture.  Agribusiness consists of the whole value chain from farming to storing to transporting to processing and finally retailing the finished food products.  Food waste is,  therefore, something that occurs at every stage of the process ranging form the moment it is grown to the moment it reaches the consumer in the supermarkets or in the restaurants.  Food can be lost through spillages, it can become spoiled during transit (just think of all the fresh vegetables produced in Trinidad Valley that arrive partly spoiled in the markets in Metro Manila because of poor  transport or logistics systems); or it can be damaged by insect infestation.

         As Dr. Jose Sandejas, President of the Philippine Food Bank Foundation, remarked, “The monumental wastes arising between production to delivery to the consumption venue, happen because the delivery process from the production to the consumption level is slow, expensive and prone to corruption.  Farm-to-market roads, central or localised processing systems, storage systems that avoid spoilage, etc. are only a short list of support systems that could lessen significantly the one-third waste of total food that is often quoted by transnational organizations.  These statements, though accurate,  leave the problems at the macro level and seldom address the micro-level solutions.”

         We cannot just consider the waste of food that is thrown away in the supermarkets, restaurants or food manufacturing enterprises.  As pointed out in a newsletter of Trvst.World, the entire process of growing, harvesting and manufacturing food is one that utilises a lot of fresh water.  Water, as we very well know in our own country, is a very precious commodity.  Food loss and waste contribute to the water shortage problem.  Much water is used for livestock or crop irrigation.  For example, 125 litres of water is used to grow one apple or 15,400 litres  of water is needed to grow 1 kg of beef.  When food is wasted, therefore, water is also wasted.  Then there is the waste of land.  It is estimated that 28% of the world’s agricultural areas are utilised for the production of food that goes to waste.  Just think of the following fact:  a land mass greater than the size of China is used to grow the food each year that  does not get eaten.  Much of this land has been developed to the point where rain forests have been destroyed, species have been driven to extinction, while indigenous populations have been moved from their homes.  All of this is done just to produce food that goes to waste.  Just think of the millions of hectares of rain forests in countries like Indonesia that had to be cleared to produce palm oil!

         We should also consider that much of the food we eat undergoes a significant manufacturing process, such as crops being converted into specific food items or the processing of fish or meat.  The entire manufacturing process requires a great deal of energy and it utilises a number of other resources.  A large portion of the food that results from this process may go to waste.  This is another level of waste of resources as well as the  damage to the environment because of harmful gases that are emitted as part of the manufacturing process.  Furthermore, much of the processed food we eat comes in plastic packaging.  We are all aware of how problematic plastic can be to the environment.  It is estimated that the carbon footprint of food waste could be an appalling 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 annually.  This figure is calculated from the transportation, the growing of the food, the manufacturing process as well a the greenhouse gases that are a result of rotting food waste.  There are, therefore, many dimensions to the phenomenon of food waste.

         In in the opinion of Dr. Jose Sandejas, the monumental wastes of food result from throwing away unconsumed food left on the tables, especially in public food service outlets.  These wastes happen very frequently at the highly successful food chains.  More often than not, these unconsumed food is thrown away as garbage.  He recalls two unforgettable experiences:  (a) a poor person scavenging in the street corner bin of a Jollibee restaurant, and directly eating some of what he could obtain from the garbage dump.  He also had a bag where he was putting other food he could gather to bring home to his family; (b) In a TV expose, similar scenes were being shown on the screen.  Dr. Sandejas makes an appeal to these food chains:  “If we could only convince these big successful food chains to allow outside groups to help in somehow disposing of the food left on the tables of the customers, the beneficiaries would be able to avail of cleaner food than they presently are scavenging from the garbage dumps beside their outlets.”  To be continued.