#10 hunger
Stefan Kreutzberger / Laura Cwiertnia

Fresh in the Trash

His book"Die Essensvernichter" (lit.: The Food Destroyers) incited debate in Germany on global food waste: an interview with Stefan Kreutzberger.

Mr Kreutzberger, is it really true that half of all the food in Germany ends up in the bin?

Up to half. Presumably even more is thrown away, but the food industry and retailers aren't willing to allow us a closer look into their bins.

Many statistics also cover up the extent of the waste because they only include food that has been harvested. So they ignore everything destroyed in the fields prior to the harvest. Because a supermarket suddenly no longer wants the food it ordered, for example. The farmer then ploughs the vegetables, fruit or grains under instead of harvesting them. This is a problem in almost all areas of food production; for every fish we eat, another is thrown away.

"For every fish we eat, another is thrown away."

The blame lies primarily with the food industry and companies then?

Well they are certainly making a large contribution to food waste. Take the sell-by date for example: food companies can set it however they like and food is often still fresh long past the date. Because most supermarkets focus on offering a wide variety, their coolers contain hundreds of kinds of yogurt. Everything must be available all the time. Consumers have gotten used to this luxury. In general though not everything gets sold, and enormous amounts of fresh food then land in the skip.

How can consumers know if a product is good if they don't look at the sell-by date?

We need to learn to trust our senses again, that is the key. If the sell-by date has expired on my yogurt, I don't have to toss it right in the bin. I can smell it, look at it, or taste it. That alone would make a huge difference, since 45% of the food we waste is thrown away by consumers.

That sounds as if we have lost our awareness of food.

Many people don't value food anymore today because it is so cheap. In Germany we spend just around 11% of our take-home income on food. Food in France and Spain is valued much more. Our current mentality, the idea that cheap is the best way to go, means we throw food away more frivolously.

Is food waste primarily a problem in industrialised countries?

No, a lot gets thrown away in developing countries too, but for different reasons. There around 40% rots during harvest, transport or in storage. Extreme heat, mould and pests are usually the causes. These problems are much easier to change than awareness here in Germany.

In your book you claim that food waste increases global hunger. What does the bread I waste have to do with the fact that someone far away doesn't have enough to eat?

There is actually a direct link. Because we consume so much, international corporations are buying up more and more fertile fields in African, Asian or Latin American countries. There they plant grains, beans and maize to be sold on the global market. This is known as land grabbing because it prevents local inhabitants from using the land, forcing them to purchase their food on the global market.

"Because we consume so much, international corporations are buying up more and more fertile fields in African, Asian or Latin American countries."

In other words, the way we consume here affects food security in other countries?

Exactly. Food staples like grains are primarily traded on the global market today. If we waste these foods here in Germany, demand increases and up goes the price for the entire world. Grain prices have doubled and tripled in recent years. This causes food crises because people in developing countries can no longer afford to buy the staples they need.

People are starving because of overproduction? Isn't that a paradox?

But that is how it is. Firms want the fastest commodity flow possible, so they supply the market with as much variety as they can. We are fooled into thinking there is more on offer than ever before, but that is not in fact the case at all. Pretty much all we really have access to are uniformly standardised goods sold in a variety of packages.

Discount shops often only sell fruit and vegetables in XXL packages.

Studies have shown that single-person households waste the most food. Many people go grocery shopping and end up throwing half of it away. That is why we as a foundation recently got together with an internet community to start the "Foodsharing" project, an online platform for trading food. People can post any leftover food they have and anyone who needs it can pick it up. Entirely for free.

Can an individual do more to prevent food waste?

Buy regional fruit and vegetables. Here in Germany we throw out huge amounts of Kenyan beans that have travelled thousands of kilometres to get here. Vietnamese dragon fruit is another good example. It is grown in Vietnam as a giant monoculture and then distributed throughout Europe. But ultimately 95% of these fruits are not sold because they are too expensive for many people. Dragon fruit is often just used for decoration because it gives shoppers the impression that a particular store is very exclusive. That is completely absurd.

Interview by Laura Cwiertnia

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