Food Waste & Rescued Foods – are you food rescuer?

Sitting in La Mangerie, the school cafeteria of Hotelschool The Hague, I am working on my Bachelor thesis (Lycar in Hotelschool The Hague terms). However, my thesis is so much more than just a report for school. It is about food waste. The more I research on this topic, the more I feel compelled to share it in a wider sense, especially as we are doing such great things at my school in that regard. I will come to that later. To start with, did you know that roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year?! This equals 1.3 billion tons per year, worth around $1 trillion dollars. In the meantime, around 870 million people are starving each day (United Nations Environment Programme, 2015).

Food waste is one of the biggest problems facing today’s world. Next to being an ethical problem, food waste also comes with numerous negative environmental and economic impacts. In fact, the direct economic consequences of food waste are approximately $ 750 billion each year (FAO, 2015). Even more disturbing is that if food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. If that is not enough, the amount of water used to produce food that gets lost or wasted equals 3 times the volume of Lake Geneva!

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Food waste happens at all levels of the supply chain, but in developed and industrialised countries the consumer stage is the largest contributor. Therefore, consumers have a large role to play in decreasing food waste. Looking at the Hospitality Industry, the carbon footprint of dining out is large and growing. Hospitality related companies therefore also need to think of ways and practices to decrease food waste and thereby contribute to a more sustainable environment. We see many interesting business models developing to tackle and actually commercialise food waste as a way to reduce it.

In-Stock is such an initiative. They collect food products at Albert Heijn supermarkets that would otherwise be wasted and create yummy dishes (and even ‘pieper’ and ‘bammetjes’ beers!) out of it. Another example of a company that helps restaurants to reduce food waste is ResQ-Club; featuring an application on which restaurant dishes can be ordered and picked up in one of the participating restaurants. ‘The Verspillingsfabriek’ also makes efforts to reduce food waste. They collect fruits and vegetables from farmers, distributors, and wholesalers that cannot be sold in retail and make soups. They are called ‘Barstensvol’ and are sold in retail, the foodservice market, and healthcare institutions. To continue, Kromkommer is a social enterprise within The Netherlands with a similar mission. They emphasise that taste, health and safety are indicators of the quality of fruits and vegetables; perfect looks are NOT. According to them, consumers and retailers need to get rid of their urge for perfection in foods and existing European quality requirements should be adjusted.

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So, looking at those initiatives it seems that people are finally waking up right? All are great examples of commercial business models positively contributing to decreasing food waste. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. Even though the majority of people say to find it important to contribute to a sustainable environment and to decrease food waste, their intentions are not translated into actions. Actually, the more I dive into this research I find that there is a large behavioural gap between consumer intention and their actual behaviour.

Research is needed to understand how to bridge this behavioural gap. Communication can be a helpful mechanism to do so. Therefore, at Hotelschool The Hague Research Centre in a project led by Anna de Visser-Amundson, we currently investigate how to best trigger consumers to make more sustainable choices with regards to food waste and ‘rescued foods’. To clarify, rescued foods are food products made for human consumption from foods that would otherwise be thrown away due to approaching ‘sell-by’ dates, over-production or cosmetic reasons. Anna de Visser-Amundson has set up much different food waste and rescued food-related research projects.

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I joined her on one of the projects and I am particularly focusing on the perception of the proximity of rescued foods. This means that does it make a difference in consumer choice whether or not the rescued food product resembles the original state of the food product? Indeed, is the barrier for consumers to choose rescued foods lower once the food is not recognisable as rescued anymore e.g. pureed instead of chunky? And are people more risk-averse when a rescued food still resembles its original state? These are all mechanisms that might help or hinder consumers’ choice for this type of foods.

As part of the food waste related research projects, we also raise awareness about food waste at Hotelschool The Hague (HTH) and the larger HTH community. We do this by sharing both information and the products that we ‘harvest’ on ‘food rescue missions’. On our ‘food rescue missions,’ we go to various growers and help them with their surplus vegetables. Our Food & Beverage (F&B) lecturer, Joost de Vos, set this up in earlier this year and together with him and other F&B instructors we have rescued over 8000 kilos of vegetables. How cool is that?!?! See photo below of myself to the left, Anna de Visser-Amundson, Joost de Vos, Romy Rooskens, and Ed ten Toom (in the back; red sweater) on one of our trips so save beautiful yellow tomatoes from being discarded.

By continuing our rescue actions and our research projects on how to best trigger consumers to choose of less waste less and more rescued food alternatives, we aim to contribute to bridging the behavioural gap. And thereby see more intentions translated into actions. Are you joining us on this journey?!

Author: Anouk Sluijter

The original article and list of sources.

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