Why food waste is a systemic problem — and should be treated as such

Picture 1: Organic carrots getting harvested and packed at one of our producer-partners in Norway

What is food waste?

FAO states that food waste “refers to the decrease in the quantity or quality of food resulting from decisions and actions by retailers, food service providers and consumers.” (FAO) Simply put, it is food that is produced but never consumed, due to various reasons through a complex food system.

Why and where does food waste occur?

Before we go any further — let us quickly draw up the current food system for fresh produce (fruits & vegetables, roots & tubers, milk & eggs), as we have drawn it up together with our producer-partners at Dagens. Fresh produce accounts for more than 80% (approx.) of the documented waste (see figure 2).

Figure 1: Traditional value chain for fresh produce
Figure 2: BCGs visualization of the food waste across the supply chain

Why does food waste occur in such large volumes?

The shortest answer to ‘why there are such volumes of food waste’, is that a lot of produce does not “fit the system”. As shown in figure 1, a large part of the produce gets rejected early on. The wholesalers have large industrialized washing and packing facilities that require the produce to be a specific size and shape — and naturally, a large part of the produce is not the same size, shape, or color.

Picture 2: Carrot harvest 2021 — where a large part of the carrots never made it to the customer

What can be done?

It is actually quite simple. Buy as much as possible directly from the producers. Avoid grocers and wholesalers. Following the FAO definition of food waste, the easiest way forward is to skip all the players between the producers and you — the customer. By making sure the farmers can sell the vast majority of their produce directly, you will contribute to building the new food system that we need. A local, direct, and transparent food system. By doing so, there will be less overproduction, less soil depletion, less industrial farming, a wider variety of crops, higher quality and more tasty produce. As a consequence, we will have more and happier farmers freed from the yoke of the current food system. Of course — the current food system is extremely complex and there are a lot of moving and interdependent variables. So, there will still be a need for multiple initiatives and players pushing different parts of the food value chain. However, for a large volume of the produce — buying direct solves a majority of the problems, I’d argue.

Picture 3: Farmers and chefs meeting face to face to plan direct trade the coming season at a community based event in Oslo, 2022
  • Ensure that the money goes directly to the ones that really deserve it
  • Get access to food that the food system cannot handle
  • Customise specific type of produce (shapes and size)
  • The excitement of buying seasonal food
Figure 3: Dagens supply chain for local, directly traded food

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Dagens

Dagens

Digital platform taking direct food trade between food producers and chefs mainstream — on nature’s premises. www.dagens.farm