Bernardo M. Villegas
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Food Stolen From the Poor (Part 2)

          The most important reason why we should be concerned about food waste is moral in nature, as can be inferred from the comment of Pope Francis quoted at the beginning of this article.  Food waste is considered a global problem mainly because of the number of people who are suffering from starvation in the world.  Around 800 million do not have access to food in the same way that people in developed countries have.  This means that 1 out 9 people in the world are starving for malnourished.  The ones who suffer most from under- or malnourishment are the children.  If they do not get sufficient nutrients in the first six years of their lives, the brains of these children are permanently damaged for life.  They can never hope to catch up in intellectual development  with the children of the well to do who get sufficient nourishment.

         Each person could be fed on under a quarter of the food that goes to waste in the UK, Europe and the USA each year.  What is also surprising is that hunger is not just a problem for people who live in under-developed countries because it is also a problem for countries with very high per capita incomes.  There are many people living in “food poverty” and all that wasted food could ensure that almost every person on the planet has access to the right nutrition.  In our own country,  2.4 million families have experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months.  Only 1 out of 3 Filipino households are considered food secure.  In 2016, 6.8 % of Filipino households experienced not having any food at home.  And yet, it has been estimated that each Filipino still wastes an average of 3.29 kg of rice per year, which when totalled would be enough to feed 4.3 million Filipinos.

         In an article in Triple Pundit, author RP Siegel suggests some solutions to the problem of food waste.  He starts with the retailers.  He proposed to them to move away from the buy-one-get-one-free mentality.  Although it may be an effective means to moving the product, much of it gets moved right into the landfill with a brief stopover in the households. That practice used to be considered acceptable as long as the enterprise was generating profits   Those days will soon be gone.  In fact, the greatest fear of the largest country in the world in terms of population, China, is food security.  Attitudes can also change concerning food that may not be attractive to behold but still perfectly safe to eat.  Perishable foods near expiration can be sold at marked down prices where if used promptly, it can provide excellent value.  Also, more retailers can participate in programs to donate overstock foods to those who are needy.

         Mr. Siegel opines that the biggest opportunities lie with the consumers.  Consumer attitudes have to change.  Because of the fall in food prices in the more developed countries, food is not valued as it was in earlier times.  People need better information about how to store foods properly and expiration dates must be clearly labeled.  Labels should indicate the date at which food will become unusable.  With improved technology (especially with the use of androids), tomorrow’s refrigerators may be able to scan the inventory as they are stocked and issue reminders such as this one:  “Expiring tomorrow:  milk and cheese.  Use it while it’s still good.”  We may learn from best practices on how to minimize food waste.  For example, the U.S. EPA has a food recovery hierarchy that spells out the most effective use of unusable food, starting with donating it and ending with composting.  Epiphergy, an enterprise based in Rochester, New York followed this hierarchy in its extensive food waste recovery program.  Other alternatives considered in the hierarchy were converting food waste into animal feed, followed by converting them into energy.  Local government units can help by providing composting services (especially in cities like Baguio) and also by charging for waste-collection by the kilos instead of using a flat rate.  That would encourage household to to think twice before throwing things away.

         As consumers eating in restaurants become more conscious of a moral responsibility to share their uneaten food with the poor, Dr. Sandejas suggests a more challenging campaign that can be waged by food banks.  His suggestion is as follows:  “One way to gather the unconsumed food left  over on table of fast food chains and other restaurants, perhaps we can go on a campaign where all customers ask the food service outlet to “balot” (wrap) the unconsumed food.  Then there could be volunteers from existing food banks who  position themselves outside the restaurants to accept the “balot” (wrapped food surplus) from the customer as she steps out of the outlet.  This may be the only way that the unconsumed food  by individual customers can be gathered since it is understandable that the food service establishment will be reluctant to allow the volunteers to position themselves inside the store to pick up the unconsumed excess orders.” 

         What about the excess food from families eating at home?  In this regard, part of the values formation that children should be receiving at home from their parents and other elders should continue the traditional insistence in  the typical Filipino household, especially among the lower-income groups, to insist that children should  only put on their plates what they can consume.  If they forget, as I experienced especially with my very strict aunts, they should actually be forced to consume the left over as a punishment so that they will remember the next time to take only what they can consume.  I also remember the constant reference of the elders to the poor who cannot  have access even to  the food that is being  left on the plate.  According to Dr. Sandejas, however, “the excess food from families eating at home is likely to be much less than the public outlets, because homeowners are more careful, being more cost conscious, about preparing just enough for their consumption at every meal.  Whatever is excess is normally stored for the next meals.”  To be continued.