800 million people are facing hunger globally. This is not because the world does not produce enough food, but because a large proportion of it is wasted. Food waste equals to $1 trillion tons worldwide annually. To put into perspective, one third of the global production is wasted, according to a UNEP report.
Evidence closer to home show that Pakistan suffers alarming rates of hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index, standing at 88 out of 107. Whilst also producing 36 million tonnes of food waste each year from parties, hotels, weddings and households. (Zhao, Madni and Anwar, 2022) As of 2018, 36% of Pakistanis faced food insecurity, (Pakistan | World Food Programme, 2022) while on the other side of the coin 40% of Pakistan’s food was wasted. (Nazir, 2022) These stats would be far higher now after the floods. Food insecurity issues are exacerbated multifold due to crises such as natural disasters, epidemics, etc. Therefore this conversation is now more important than ever as the crisis has further deepened in Pakistan due the floods that have destroyed two million acres of crops and orchards and killed more than 800,000 farm animals. Pakistan’s agriculture sector is currently in turmoil and the panorama of its Food Security situation is grim. As citizens of Pakistan it is our moral responsibility to play our part by reducing our food waste and help in tackling this crisis.
In spirit of the ‘International day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste’ marked by the UN today on 29th September, we hope to equip you with all the relevant information for you to play your part.
The terms ‘Food Loss’ and ‘Food Waste’ are often used interchangeably. It is important to be aware of the distinction between the two, in order for us to address the root cause of each problem. This is a problem that everyone from farmers and producers to customers and shop-owners can help end. Food loss occurs during the supply chain process i.e. during production, post-harvest handling, processing, and distribution. On the other hand, food waste occurs at homes, in hotels and restaurants, at events such as weddings, etc. It is of mounting magnitude that we change our way of life to cut both food loss and waste for various reasons listed ahead.
The Impact of Food Waste
- Environmental Cost of Wasted Food
“We are trashing our land to grow food that no one eats.”
– Tristram Stuart.
The needless environmental impact from wasted greenhouse gas emissions and energy are referred to ‘emissions in vain’. We need to curb these emissions and reduce our carbon footprint. Food loss and waste contributes to climate change in two ways. First, by unnecessarily consuming the earth’s resources e.g. land nutrients, water etc and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Food system constitutes ⅓ of total greenhouse gas emissions. (Afzal et al., 2022) Secondly, as food wastes and by-products are released irresponsibly they end up in landlines where it decomposes and contaminates our sand and groundwater.
- Food Waste Fueling the Hunger Crises
Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria and terrorism combined. It is crucial we are more mindful while handling this scarce resource, as wasting it results in less of it being available in somebody else’s plate. This is particularly germane in Pakistan which was already suffering from a food crisis, before it was deepened by the pandemic and further exacerbated ten fold due to the floods. 60% of Pakistanis sleep without food at night, (Nazir, 2022) a profound statistic. Hunger can have an astronomical impact on a country and its people. Some of it is explored below
- Impact on child growth and the future labour market of Pakistan
Early childhood, referring to the first 5 years of life, is the fastest and most sensitive period of child growth and brain development. Recent research shows that there is a strong link between nutritional status and developmental outcomes. Malnutrition constrains brain development by adversely affecting its structural and functional capacity, resulting in a diminished capacity to understand and learn for life. Children don’t have to be starving for this to happen, even mild undernutrition.(Saleem, Zakar, Bukhari, 2021) 20.5% of Pakistan’s population is undernourished, and 44% of its children under 5 are stunted. (Pakistan | World Food Programme, 2022)
These children make up the future labour market of Pakistan, and their potentials are forever capped. This is not only an injustice of a human right, but also impacts the long term economic potential of Pakistan.
- The impact of hunger on physical and mental health
Hunger can cause various physical health issues and reduce the life expectancy prospects. Malnutrition weakens the immune system, making it harder for the body to be in good shape to fight off bacteria and diseases. In extreme cases, malnutrition can lead to heart diseases, strokes, organ failure, and so on. lack of nutrients may also lead to depressive states or paranoia. Lack of nutrients at a young age can lead to behavioural problems like hyperactivity, anxiety and aggression.
- Food Insecurity Fuels Violence
Hunger may also indirectly contribute to violence and security issues as poor people who cannot access food may be willing to join radical movements who promise them enough food to survive. This is likely in cases where this may be the only way to provide for their family. Men may accept joining these organisations due to desperation even if they do not actually believe in their values.
- The Monetary strain of Food Waste
Food waste worth $310 billion is generated by developing countries annually. (Nazir, 2022) It has a massive financial strain on the pockets of the hospitality industry, households and the economy as a whole. On a national level, food waste propels countries to import more food goods to fulfil its needs. Pakistan will already be importing large amounts of grain and other foods due to damage to its own crops.
On a household level, a lot of money can be saved by capping food waste. On average, the American consumer spends roughly $1,300 each year on food that ends up being wasted. Pakistanis are estimated to spend $1 billion a year on dining out, (Ibid) a large portion of which gets wasted.
- Water Footprint of Wasted Food
Our food production costs us a lot of water. Recent work on the global water footprint indicates that consumption of agricultural products alone is responsible for 92 percent of the water footprint of humanity. (El-Hage et al, 2013)These agricultural products are either already in the form of our food, or in the form of feed for other products that constitute as food eaten by us. Either way, a significant amount of water is utilised to produce our food. Hence our food waste indirectly symbolises waste of a large amount of water.
Do your part – Reduce your Food Waste
Food Waste is a multidimensional problem with a multidimensional solution that needs to be initiated at various steps of the process from producers, suppliers, employees, consumers, technology and knowledge providers. Quantity of food wastage is much greater at the household level as compared with the business level, so considering the households as main contributors to food waste (Zhao, Madni and Anwar, 2022) here are possible steps we all can take to give our food the respect it deserves and look after our community.
- Reducing Our Food Waste
- Know How to store your Food
Certain foods produce ethylene gas while ripening. These include Banana, avocado, tomatoes, Cantaloupes, peaches, pears, green onions etc. Keep these foods away from ethylene-sensitive produce like potatoes, apples, leafy greens, berries and peppers to avoid premature spoilage.
- Pack your Leftovers
Food leftovers at restaurants and cafes are often thrown in the bin. Pack your leftovers and either take it home for later or give it to someone on your way home.
- Use Ingredients in the Kitchen
We often ignore the food in our fridge and just end up tossing it out when it goes bad. Try getting creative and using what you have rather than buying more things. Give imperfect fruits and vegetables that don’t meet your cosmetic standards a chance.
- Avoid Large Servings
“No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for
any son of Adam are some morsels to keep his back straight.”
These are words of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) who discouraged over eating and said eating and drinking proportionately were acts of worship.
We should avoid servings that are too large. It is better to serve small portions and come back for seconds, rather than scraping excess food from our plates into the bin. In restaurants, large portions can be shared.
- Understand the ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ Dates
The ‘use by’ date on packaged food tells us when it is still safe to eat the product. The use-by date is usually found on perishable foods such as chilled meat, dairy, and ready-made meals. To avoid wasting food these should be purchased when, and in the amount, necessary. It’s best not to stock up. ‘Best before’ dates are more flexible than use by date. After this date, foods such as dried beans, lentils, and pasta, can be consumed safely, although their quality may have decreased (for example, changes in flavour, colour, texture). Trusting our senses should be sufficient to detect the quality of foods with these labels.
- Shop Smart
Often people, who can afford to, buy more than what they can consume and the leftover food, if not used soon, goes stale. One should be mindful while grocery shopping because if you can not eat it, you deprive someone else of the chance to eat it. It can use useful to make a grocery list prior to going shopping.
- Utilising Food Waste
- Donate Leftovers
The best utilisation of leftovers is by sharing it with those who cannot afford it. An easy way to do this is by packing your leftovers and giving it to anyone you see on the streets. This may not be possible with all leftovers as all of it may not be edible, but we should try to donate as much of our leftovers before it goes stale.
- Don’t Toss Coffee Grounds
If you can’t fathom getting ready for your day without a hot cup of coffee, chances are you generate a lot of coffee grounds. Interestingly, this often-overlooked leftover has many uses. Those with a green thumb may be delighted to know that coffee grounds make excellent fertiliser for plants. The grounds are high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are nutrients that plants crave. Coffee grounds also make a fantastic natural mosquito repellent. In fact, research has shown that sprinkling spent coffee grounds in grassy areas deters female mosquitoes from laying eggs, reducing the population of these pesky insects
Even vegetable peels don’t have to go to waste. Backyard composting is a great way to keep food waste out of the landfill and provide nutrition for your garden. You also can find small composting containers that you can keep in your home to turn food waste into energy for plants. While not everyone has room for an outdoor composting system, there’s a wide range of countertop composting systems that make this practice easy and accessible for everyone, even those with limited space.
- Eat environmentally Friendly Foods
One burger you eat requires 2,400 litres of ‘hidden’ water to make. The environmental damage due to the meat industry is huge . 27% of humanity’s freshwater consumption goes to produce animal food, and that the livestock sector is responsible for about 15% of all human made emissions globally, which is equivalent to the emissions from all the forms of transport in the world, including the cumulative emissions of planes, trains, cars and ships. (Quadir, 2020) Moving towards a plant-based diet could alleviate this problem. We should try to eat more pulses, grains and vegetables.
The bottom line is that food loss and waste is a mammoth of a challenge for environmental, social and economic sustainability. As a knowledge based organisation Hashoo Foundation aims to equip all citizens with the information to make better choices and become more responsible members of society. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness on the issue of food waste in Pakistan and to encourage lifestyle changes.
Zhao, J., Madni, G. and Anwar, M., 2022. Exploring rural inhabitants’ perceptions towards food wastage during COVID-19 lockdowns: Implications for food security in Pakistan. PLOS ONE,.
Quadir, S., 2020. One hamburger takes 2,400 litres of ‘hidden’ water to make | City, University of London. [online] City.ac.uk. Available at: <https://www.city.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2019/10/one-hamburger-takes-2400-litres-of-hidden-water-to-make#:~:text=Professor%20Lang%20said%2C,2%2C400%20litres%20of%20embedded%20water.> [Accessed 29 September 2022].
Saleem, J., Zakar, R., Bukhari, G.M.J. et al. Developmental delay and its predictors among children under five years of age with uncomplicated severe acute malnutrition: a cross-sectional study in rural Pakistan. BMC Public Health 21, 1397 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11445-w
Nazir, S., 2022. A Framework Development of Food Wastage and Its Prevention Strategies in the Hospitality Industry of Pakistan. International Journal of Circular Economy and Waste Management, [online] Available at: <https://www.igi-global.com/article/a-framework-development-of-food-wastage-and-its-prevention-strategies-in-the-hospitality-industry-of-pakistan/302206> [Accessed 22 September 2022].
Wfp.org. 2022. Pakistan | World Food Programme. [online] Available at: <https://www.wfp.org/countries/pakistan> [Accessed 22 September 2022].
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El-Hage Scialabba, N., Jan, O., Clément Tostivint, C. and Turbé, A., 2013. Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources. Summary Report. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,.