Hundreds of ministers and high-level officials dined on perfectly good food grown by Kenyan farmers but rejected by UK supermarkets at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi to highlight a major campaign to cut massive levels of global food loss and waste. These foods were denied access to UK markets due to cosmetic imperfections.
The zero-waste reception,taking place on Tuesday during a meeting of the first UNEP Governing Council under universal membership, was in support of Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint - an initiative launched in January by UNEP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners such as Feeding the 5,000 and Messe Dusseldorf.
The campaign aims to promote actions by consumers and food retailers to dramatically cut the 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted each year -which aside from the cost implications and environmental impacts increases pressure on the already straining global food system- and help shape a sustainable future.
"No economic, environmental or ethical argument can be made to justify the extent of food waste and loss currently happening in the world, and at UNEP we practice what we preach,"said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
"With this dinner we are demonstrating to retailers, consumers and policymakers who can push for change that the astonishing amount of food we throw away is not just edible and nutritious, but also delicious."
Tristram Stuart, food waste author and founder of Feeding the 5000, a key partner organization that has organized such dinners for years, visited producers across Kenya to source around 1,600 kilogrammes of unwanted fruit and vegetables for the meal and for donation to local charities.
The food had been grown for the export market only to be rejected -largely due to stringent standards over appearance or orders being changed after vegetables had been harvested. Some of this unwanted produce is sold on the local market or donated, but the quantities are so large that local markets cannot handle the volume and so much of it is either left to rot or fed to livestock -prompting resentment amongst Kenyan farmers who must bear the costs themselves.
"It's a scandal that so much food is wasted in a country with millions of hungry people; we found one grower supplying a UK supermarket who is forced to waste up to 40 tonnes of vegetables every week, which is 40 per cent of what he grows,"said Mr. Stuart. "The waste of perfectly edible ugly vegetables is endemic in our food production systems and symbolizes our negligence."
"But it is also a huge opportunity: by persuading supermarkets to change their standards, and by developing processing and other ways of marketing this produce, we can help to increase on-farm incomes and food availability where it is needed most," he added.
"This dinner, and the many Feeding the 5000 events we have run, aims to change attitudes and highlight best practices, by showing that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this food we so casually discard."
While UK supermarkets are in the frame here in Kenya, experts believe that similar practises are happening in respect to supermarkets in many parts of the developed, and increasingly in parts of the developing, world.
Chef Ray Cournede, from Nairobi's prestigious Windsor Hotel, utilized the rescued food to cook a five-course meal that included such delights as Grilled Sweet Corn Tamales, Yellow Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Mangomisu - Tiramisu with a tropical twist. Mr. Cournede also prepared mango chutney and candied fruit peels, which show ways to preserve and use fruits when in season.
The dinner was a zero-waste event: guests were encouraged to doggy bag leftovers and many of the fruits and vegetables were donated to MCEDO, a community-based organization that runs a school with a feeding programme for 580 children in Nairobi’s Mathare informal settlement.
Kenyan singing sensations Eric Wainaina and Suzanna Owiyo, who will support the food waste campaign when they are officially designated as National Goodwill Ambassadors later this week, performed at the event.
The Think.Eat.Save. Reduce Your Foodprint campaign is in support of the SAVE FOOD Initiative to reduce food loss and waste along the entire chain of food production and consumption –run by the FAO and trade fair organizer Messe Düsseldorf – and the UN Secretary General's Zero Hunger Initiatives. The campaign specifically targets food wasted by consumers, retailers and the hospitality industry.
Worldwide, at least one-third of all food produced, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems, according to data released by FAO. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages – harvesting, processing and distribution– while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain.
According to FAO roughly 95 per cent of food loss and waste in developing countries are unintentional losses at early stages of the food supply chain due to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques; storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions; infrastructure; packaging and marketing systems.
However, in the developed world the end of the chain is far more significant. At the food manufacturing and retail level in the developed world, large quantities of food are wasted due to inefficient practices, quality standards that over-emphasize appearance, confusion over date labels and consumers being quick to throw away edible food due to over-buying, inappropriate storage and preparing meals that are too large.
Per-capita waste by consumers is between 95 and 115 kg a year in Europe and North America/Oceania, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia each throw away only 6 to 11 kg a year.
"Together, we can reverse this unacceptable trend and improve lives. In industrialized regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption," said José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General. "This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world."