How often do you clean the refrigerator and find food that has gone bad? What do you then do with it? When you go shopping, do you make a plan for the groceries you want to buy so that you know exactly what you will prepare and how much food you will eat? Or do you buy in large quantities because it’s easier to have everything at your fingertips in your fridge?
The dilemmas associated with food surplus and organic waste arising from expired food and our bad habits are becoming increasingly common. On the one hand, in supermarkets, we have a growing range of the most exotic fruit right next to local cheese. Wrapped in plastic, in perfect colours and packaging, food comes to us regardless of the season and distance of the country of origin. We don’t question diets based on meat products, assuming that each meal should contain foods such as bacon, sausage, chicken or pork. The refrigerators are getting bigger so that we can have space to put the huge amounts of food we buy, and yet in the garbage bin we find more and more waste from food that has expired because we did not eat it in time. This waste fills the landfills, and often leads to their inflammation. The use of compost or biogas is rare, and there is more and more surplus food – from households, restaurants, supermarkets and similar institutions.
For gases like methane and carbon dioxide, we have also heard under the name greenhouse gases. The greenhouse effect and the challenge that it imposes is something we often read about on the news about global warming, the rise in temperature and melting of large ice surfaces, which leads to a rising sea level. The first association with this pollution is most often transport or fossil fuels, but not many think about the idea that the food we eat contributes as well. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), when greenhouse gas emissions are divided into economic sectors that produce them, agriculture and other land use are at the very top, contributing as much as 24% to this pollution. The only greater pollutant than agriculture is energy production with a 25% impact, while transport, industry and construction are a percentage of smaller pollutants.
If we ponder over this, the calculation becomes quite clear. A large amount of energy is used during food production. For livestock breeding, you need arable land on which food for humans can no longer be grown. For food processing and transport, you need water and energy. When growing beef, large amounts of methane are released due to the digestive system of these animals. In the end, for example, one garlic passes from Japan to Serbia to sell it packaged into a plastic net at the supermarket. As there is more garlic in the net than we need, the excess often dries out and finishes in a garbage can. It’s the same with fruit, vegetables, fish and meat products. The vicious circle of resource consumption for food production ends up at a landfill where it again emits harmful gases and causes fires and additional pollution.
In this vicious circle, what does the food of the future look like? To begin with, the food of the future is local, comes from small producers who grow the food without unnecessary pesticides and harmful substances. Furthermore, it is based on vegetables and plant protein, not on meat products. The latest research shows that meat and dairy products produce only 18% of calories and 37% of proteins, but occupy the majority of arable land – as much as 83%. Plant protein is found in legumes like beans, peas and lentils, as well as in hazelnuts, almonds and other nuts. Vegan and vegetarian food do not have to be the only option, but a more rational use of meat products can already contribute to the solution. Food of the future is also purchased in the quantities that we really need. Surpluses are thrown into organic waste that can be composted in the household (even on the terrace), and in a wider field can be used for the production of biogas.
Food is a new medium of communication. Through food and its tastes, we get to know different cultures, landscapes and people. More importantly, with proper food access we help the planet. We will discuss the reasons, challenges and solutions for food surpluses in Serbia with relevant stakeholders at a special panel within the Mikser SHIFT conference.