Food on the plate
SINGKIT - Notes from the editor (The Philippine Star) - October 3, 2015 - 10:00am

Would you eat food that’s been thrown away?

If you joined world leaders at the United Nations in New York during their working lunch last Sunday that’s exactly what you’d get – a meal made up of food discards, food rejected for not meeting standards, even skins and peels usually thrown away. Their menu consisted of a “landfill salad” made out of vegetable scraps, burgers made from vegetables thrown away for being below quality standards, French fries made from corn typically used as animal feed and desserts consisting of coffee cherry pulp, cocoa bean shells and leftover nut skins. The leaders even drank water drained from cans of chick peas.

The food waste, of course, did not go straight from supermarket discard bins to the plate of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but was transformed by James Beard Foundation award-winning chef Dan Barber, chef-owner of Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan, and White House senior policy advisor for nutrition policy Sam Kass, who helped Michelle Obama set up the White House vegetable garden and headed her anti-obesity campaign. 

The meal was served as the leaders tackled climate change and the need to end poverty and hunger worldwide during sessions of the UN General Assembly and various meetings on the sidelines. The unusual meal put focus on the role of food waste “as an overlooked aspect of climate change,” according to Ban.

Food waste directly impacts those three major issues of climate change, poverty and hunger. The average person is said to eat between 3 to 5 pounds of food a day, or about 1,800 pounds – nearly a ton – a year. It has been reported that up to 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year around the world, from non-harvested produce left to rot in farms to food lost in processing to excess food simply thrown away. That’s about a third of all the food produced in the world for human consumption. In the US, the bastion of consumption, the Food and Agriculture Organization reported that about 40 percent of food – 34 million tons – is wasted.

Not too long ago, during the severe famine in Africa, parents would tell their kids to finish the food on their plate and not waste anything because children were starving in Somalia, and their smart aleck kids would retort that they should just send the food – especially if it’s something they don’t like, such as veggies – to Somalia. Nowadays hunger is not just in Somalia or the Sudan; hunger is all around us – the kid who knocks on your car window, the woman rummaging through the pile of trash in the corner, the refugees walking for days on the train tracks in Europe, the homeless man bedding down in an alley in Manhattan.

When I was a kid my grandmother and my mother would make me eat every single grain of rice in my bowl, telling me the farmer worked really hard under sun and rain to get that rice to our table. I wonder what parents tell their kids these days, but not wasting food is a good thing to learn and practise – at any age and at any table you may be privileged to sit at and dine.

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