Introduction to food

Food waste and food poverty are issues that affect people in almost every city and town. Here, we begin with an introduction to the problem of food waste, and then introduce you to three case studies from our local area of people working to tackle the problem.

Note: Remember that if this is one of the topics you want to focus on, you should be working in more depth, and perhaps even doing some further reading or research into this topic in your own local area. If this isn’t a topic you are focusing on, make sure you spend a little less time on each case study. Once you are familiar with the case study, and the main idea of what they are doing, you can mark the step as complete, and continue.

Thinking about food as a sustainability challenge

Here are some facts:

There are different reasons why food waste occurs. Food loss occurs within the production and supply chain, at the retail level and in the domestic sphere.

The knock-on results of food waste are the increased volume of material sent to landfill. This can be a burdensome cost and results in disposal costs being passed on by retailers to consumers. For both parties, food waste causes financial damage. Retailers’ profits are diminished while consumers face ever growing costs to purchase food.

Food waste sent to landfill is also environmentally unsound. The packaging associated with many foods adds to the volume of material. More broadly, the FAO reports that food waste contributes towards our carbon footprint, emissions of methane, increased water and land use, and negative impacts on biodiversity.

Zero Hunger Sustainable Development Goal Logo © United Nations 2016

Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger, addresses the issue of food poverty. It aims to improve nutrition, sustainable agricultural practices and food security. Hunger affects almost 800 million people, predominantly in developing countries. Forty five percent of deaths of children under the age of five are caused by starvation and malnutrition. In the last hundred years, some 75% of crop diversity has been lost which decreases the resilience of the agricultural industry (FAO, 2010). Food security is also at risk from climate change and global economic disparity.

As individuals, community groups and organisations, we can take roles to tackle these issues. In our everyday life, we can be more conscientious consumers and take greater care with our shopping habits. Little actions, like checking upcoming perishables and consuming them in time saves on waste build-up in the home. We can plan meals more carefully to take advantage of leftovers or buy foods only as we need them.

Communities can work together to bring about local social change. This can include every member of society working collaboratively, from those suffering food poverty to those with food surplus. More formal channels, such as NGOs (non-governmental organisations), councils and governments can support such efforts on a regional scale.

What next?

In the following case studies, we see how separate local communities, students from across the world, and visitors to the city live and work together across Bristol. We look at one aspect of life shared by everyone in the city: food. The first case study, about FareShare, shows how large supermarket chains can make changes in their practice to avoid food waste and support charitable actions against food poverty. The case studies about FoodCycle and Just Eat It look at how our students and communities join forces to challenge our perceptions of food and take social action to tackle issues of food waste and food poverty.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2010). Crop biodiversity: use it or lose it, FAO News, published online 26 October 2010
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2011). Global food losses and food waste: Extent, causes and prevention, UN Publications, Rome
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2013). Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources Summary Report, published online
Smithers, R. (2017). UK throwing away £13bn of food each year, latest figures show, The Guardian, published online 10 January 2017
Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). (2017). Estimates of Food Surplus and Waste Arisings in the UK, published online January 2017

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Unleash Your Potential: Sustainable Futures

University of Bristol