It was 3 a.m. and -4 degrees Celsius in Dublin’s Wolfe Tone Park. I was in a tent huddled with several young Dubliners. Like me, these young people were fired up about an issue that grips Ireland, the US, and the world. That issue is food waste.
In a world where nearly 1 billion people are going hungry, we waste 1.3 billion metric tons of food. All told, one-third of all food produced around the globe goes uneaten. In the European Union alone, the number is 89 million tons, amounting to a per capita waste of 179 kg per person. All told, the EU wastes nearly 50 percent of its annual food production. Without intervention, the EU projects this waste will increase by nearly 40 million tons before the close of the decade. Fortunately, we can do something about this wasted food and wasted opportunity to feed those in need.
Setting a target to reduce edible food waste in half by 2020 is an ambitious goal, but it can happen. The European Union has set food waste reduction as a priority, and Ireland as a member state is answering the call with programs like StopFoodWaste.ie.
As a Mitchell Scholar, I am immersing myself in how Ireland is responding to the challenge of food waste reduction. Not only have I become a consumer of much more Irish food, I’m studying the issue intensely here at the University College Cork’s MSc program in Food Business. In addition, I’ve traveled around the country to meet with government, nonprofit, and student leaders on the issue of food waste. I’m fortunate to be here as Ireland readies its response to the EU’s ambitious goal. This is how I found myself in a freezing tent one early Dublin morning.
On Saturday, November 24, four groups of Irish food waste champions banded together to host an event called Feeding the 5,000 Dublin. Featuring international expert food waste expert Tristram Stuart (author of “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal”), the event met its target and fed 5,000 people with food that would have otherwise simply been tossed. Wonky and unloved pieces of produce were perfectly edible, but for some reason – such as a small blemish or an irregular shape — had been slated to be discarded.
As I sat in the cold weather in that early morning, I realized the importance of Stuart’s words when he said, “The solutions to the [food waste] problem are delicious – eating food rather than throwing it away.” As food waste currently costs the typical Irish household hundreds of euro annually, I am happy to be here and work to waste less and feed more.