Food for (sustainable) thought
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Food for (sustainable) thought

Stories/319 , Issues/Sustainability
Wollongong NSW, Australia
29th May 2018
Food for (sustainable) thought
How can we change our everyday consumption habits to minimise food waste?

Food is something that we often don’t think about in terms of wastage. With our attention drawn to other producers of waste such as single-use plastics or recycling, it’s easy to forget about making a sustainable effort with our food consumption. But food waste is a huge aspect of our everyday lives, and its massive use of resources, time and money, it increasingly demands our attention. Mindless waste is ingrained behaviour. So where do we begin and how must our attitudes change when it comes to something that we must eventually dispose of or consume in some way or other?

“The food system is incredibly complex. We have lost our connection to our food. Not that many people grow their own food anymore, not that many people are aware of the process,” says Berbel Franse, a health promotion officer with Food Fairness Illawarra. “The disconnection with our food is causing us not to value it the way we probably should.”

Food Fairness Illawarra was initiated after a few locals were inspired by a food security conference in Sydney. Food Fairness looks at improving the food supply chain as a whole, including making it more sustainable and tackling the issue of food insecurity, or when people don’t have access to a supply of nutritious and safe food that will allow them to live healthily and actively.

Berbel looks at this connection, or loss of, to our food being the most important factor in improving our mindset when it comes to sustainable food practices.

“If everyone knew how much time it took to grow a whole cauliflower, there’s no way you would waste even a bit of it. It takes months, and a lot of care, and a lot of water, and a lot of love, and I think if we all knew that people would treat it with respect. But we just purchase something in the supermarket quickly in a plastic bag without even knowing where it comes from.”

Food Fairness runs throughout NSW, and focuses on educating communities about food in order to make informed decisions about what to eat, when to eat it and how to avoid sending food to landfill.

“One of the roles of Food Fairness is for us to educate the community. As consumers we actually have a lot of power. With every dollar that we spend we can actually make significant decisions around supporting a fairer food system or not. Where you purchase food, what you purchase, and how…. whether it’s wrapped in plastic or not, are you taking your own bags to the supermarket. Also, when you’re in a shop, looking for Australian foods and foods that are in season or not.”

Convenience is a major driver for people not putting the time and effort into searching for fair food options and choosing local producers. Bigger supermarkets are open outside of work hours and have access to a global food market of produce, so we as consumers are used to having every option available to us.

“Because we’re not connected to our food, we’re not even sure when it is the season for avocado on toast. If we’re more connected to our food, it’s going to be easier to make more sustainable decisions because we appreciate the food for what it is,” Berbel points out.

On average, consumers waste about 20% of the food purchased. As Berbel says, the first step is to become more actively aware and involved in our food and become more educated on how to reuse it. Leftovers, for example.

“It’s fine to eat 2 – 4 days after you’ve cooked the meal as long as it’s stored correctly. If the food is left out for less than two hours, put it in an air-tight container and it’ll be fine. If it’s within 2-4 hours it’s probably okay to eat that day, and if it’s outside that then it’s time to give it to the chooks or to give to compost. Even if it might go to waste, we do have the opportunity to not throw it in the bin.”

Our very own structures may be to blame when it comes to what we think we know about food sustainability, and what we have learnt may not necessarily be correct.

“One of the biggest reasons people throw food out is because they don’t know about use-by and best before dates. They don’t know the difference and they feel insecure about their own senses. The industry has been pushing these dates on us and confusing us on purpose because they are benefiting from us throwing things out and buying new things.”

“The use-by date is a food safety standard... Trust your senses. With best before, it’s just a guideline. It’s just the production company saying, more or less, this is when it’s the best. Smell it, touch it, taste a little bit. If it tastes fine and it’s after the ‘best before’ date then it’s still fine to eat.”

Because of this need for food education, particularly for those experiencing food insecurity, Food Fairness has developed a program called ‘Cook, chill, chat’, a soft-entry cooking workshop to connect community members to learn about food. Another focal point of improving food education and sustainability is bringing people together with food, bringing them back to those roots of connecting with the food itself and being aware about its impact.

Berbel also runs ‘Hidden Harvest’, an initiative in Wollongong that takes food that would otherwise be wasted, for example the end of a market day, and turn it into a dish. They run events around the Illawarra area to reinforce food sustainability.

“The reasons we waste food are buying too much, not looking at what we already have, cooking too much and not storing leftovers correctly. We lack food literacy,” Berbel says. “For example, peeling is a waste of time, a loss of nutrients, and creates unnecessary waste.

Her tips for food sustainability?

“Grown your own produce. Diversify where you shop, go to your baker, go to your butcher. Shop with minimal packaging, there’s some cool co-ops where you can purchase food in your own containers. Incorporate that seasonality in your kitchen and in your cooking.”

Once we connect back to our food and realise what it takes to grow and deliver produce, our entire value of food and sustainability will start to change.

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