Miguel Cisneros-Franco

McGill University


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What small, everyday actions can we do to improve the distribution of food?

I recently moved to a developped country. I was on the line of the cafeteria at my workplace, and noticed how the grill guy throwed to the trash the "sample" fully cooked panini just because he ran out of them.

As Simon Moss pointed out at TEDx Warwick -- http://youtu.be/Go4Xsd53Qqw --, hunger is not a supply issue, but a distribution one. Even if the population keeps growing, there would be enough food for 9 billion people.

These talks inspired --and outraged-- me, as they describe how people in developping and developped countries waste food only because "it does not comply with aesthetic standards" and other irrational reasons.

I truly believe that the main action we can take lies on education (since birth, within our households, way before our kids reach the school ). So, I'd like to raise the question: what small, everyday actions can we do to improve the distribution of food?

  • Nov 18 2012: Very Good Question

    Firstly because it not only will address the fair distribution of the bodies material need of sustenance but the importance of Quality and Quantity ...the layer two firstly Quantity on consumption in Western culture is on a scale so gross no previous so-called "Civilization" ..not even the Romans can come close .....next the "Quality" has deteriorated such that appearance is more important then nutritional valve .....which is leading to more starvation....not in the "poor" culture but in the "wealthy"

    Here is a BBC article that shines light on cultural attitude http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20355476

    So what :every day action"....becoming aware of what you put in your body as sustenance and not over loading it with toxic products ....sustenance that not only feeds but cleanses at the same time ....and give some of the $$ that you save due to over eating ....and money you save due to not having heath problems due to over eating ...give that $$ wisely to organization that truly assist developing Countries to do the same ....and better still participate Directly in those organizations along with your $$
  • Nov 18 2012: I liked the Ted talk on gardening and growing food locally for those in your community
  • Nov 18 2012: Eat wisely and not waste food.
    • Nov 21 2012: How does this help the distribution of food to the developing world?

      Sure, it might make me feel better about myself, for not having wasted food, but how does this catually translate to any real benefit for those in Africa, South/South-East Asia/Latin America?
      • Nov 21 2012: I argue yes. Reducing waste increases supply available for others at some level.
        • Nov 21 2012: This reminds fo what my parents used to tell me at the dinner table:
          "Eat all your food, there are starving children in Africa"

          I really don't understand the link. OK so technically yes, by reducing waste, eating less, buying less, there is more supply. But as the OP states, the issue with world poverty is not supply, but rather distribution.

          So my question to you is, how does not wasting food help the distribution of food to those areas that need it most?

          World poverty is a complex issue, and can't be answered with such a simple answer as "eat wisely and not waste food".
      • Nov 21 2012: Your parents gave you good advice. They also perhaps caused you to be aware of the issue.

        In addition to increasing supply, being conscious of not wasting food creates an consciousness of scarcity of resource.

        It is a complex issue and not some thing to be solved in a blog.

        Not wasting food is something everyone that has more than they need can do, just as making a donation to charity is something that everyone that has more money than needed to survive can do if the attitudes are right.
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      Nov 20 2012: None taken. I relate the moment 'cause it was then when I decided to initiate this conversation. I am looking at ways to solve this food-wasting... at least one place at a time :)
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    Dec 1 2012: It's very good practical and humane question.
    It's not only aesthetic standard that turns edible food into a trash ....it has got cultural facet as well as arrogance due to abundance.

    I lived in a oil rich middle eastern country , every time I ordered the smallest portion of the middle eastern dish, the amount was served was more than enough for 3-4 persons of my size of appetite..... while lot of people in neighbouring Sudan are hungry.....

    To resolve this issue on my personal ground , I stopped going to those restaurents instead started going to global fast food shops despite I know those are not healthy for me....but no option was left to me because of the cultural reason. Instead of being reason of wastage , thought it is better to take a bit health hazard on me , which I may reduce by doing a bit of excercise or having less while having my next meal home.
  • Dec 1 2012: ...Restrict Wastage. May it be in plates, in pans, in shops, during transportation, in storehouse or in farms...The Mindfood Chef
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    Dec 1 2012: Every day action: Find the foods that might be growing under your nose. Right now the freshest dandelion greens are growing everywhere in Northern California, and they are free for the picking and are a "super food" in terms of nutritional content. Finely chopped dandelion greens over a fried egg with cheese on an English muffin... MMmmm.. One of many foods that are free for the taking, or at least very cheap to grow your self. Keep a few chickens and get your own fresh eggs.
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    Nov 30 2012: Eat more sweet fruit and cut out animal products.
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    Nov 29 2012: I think that perhaps a "food waste fee" for businesses would do a lot of good... Either they can sell the food or pay for throwing it away, I think I know what most would choose...
    • Nov 29 2012: I used to eat in a Thai Buffet, it was written in the menu that people must take just enough food, they can return to take more whenever they want, and that any wasted food will be charged in the bill.
      That's a good way to stop people from wasting food!
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    Nov 29 2012: When I was in school our teachers took the effort to make breakfast for the children who didn't have the guidance to get the proper nutrition in the morning or the availability of food at home.
    • Nov 29 2012: I like the idea, but isn''t it a waste of time?
      i mean when did the class start?
  • Nov 29 2012: As far as i'm concerned, i think that these kind of actions require an early education, i mean that schools should make children aware of this, and the best way to make children remember something is by visual means (videos, pictures...etc).
    They can show them documentaries of people in other countries suffering from hunger, pictures may be shocking but this is how they will remember that if they have more than enough food at home , other people are struggling somewhere else.
  • Nov 29 2012: We can create our own food distribution networks by mapping local resources and there are tools available to help us.


    In the context of international development, by making this part of a bottom up approach to stimulate local economies, shfitng from 20th century production and profit maximisation. i.e Walmart to post growth sharing and people-centered economies:

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    Nov 23 2012: I have encountered a similar situation at Whole Foods Glendale, in California where i live. Whole foods is a medium-sized supermarket with a hot food department. In that department they put out a number of plates to show the customers what different dishes they can order will look like. After some hours they throw them away. I have talked to the manager, and he says if they don't put out the plates then they don't get enough customers, that the sample plates draw the customers. They can't give the food away because after sitting out it is unsafe. They do compost that food, which seems a lot better than throwing it in the trash.

    I'm not sure if your case is the same because your guy threw it away maybe before it was spoiled, in which case you might think an employee would have wanted to take it home and eat it. In general, if the cafeteria is throwing away a lot of sample plates, maybe they could compost it like my market. Maybe you could look into composting and help them set up a program.

    As far as other kinds of food waste go, education is a good answer. But when people grow up, they might discard the way they were educated. I suppose when you see people throwing food away in public, you could walk up to them and ask them about it (if they seem safe to approach). Suggest they take the food home. In my mind I don't worry about it entirely, because I think nature never wastes anything. If that discarded food goes into a landfill, nature will find something to do with it. Perhaps it will turn into oil, and a thousand years from now our ancestors will pump it out of the ground and use it for oil.
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    Nov 21 2012: I haven't watched the talk, but I think the best action for those living in developed countries would be eating less, especially less meat. The reality is that these massive developed world food producers are there because there are consumers. If we ate less, and again, especially less meat, the huge corporations would have to move abroad, perhaps to the developing world to find consumers, of whom there are a lot of.
    • Nov 21 2012: But would the huge corporations really have to move abroad?

      Would the millions in the developing world be able to pay enoughf or this meat, to make it economically worthwhile for the producers to make the move, setup an industry, etc etc?
      Would there be enough grain, grass, land, to facilitate a cattle industry in the developing world?
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    Nov 18 2012: I would advocate one dollar/day for charity organizations that are known to be effective and consistent in feeding the poor and the homeless.
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      Nov 20 2012: Thanks! Now, regarding the terms "effective and consistent", I liked what Simon Moss said during his talk (link above). He comments that it would be interesting to ask the people involved in fund-raising for charities:
      "Ask them what success looks like (... ) ask them how they know when they've failed, and what they're going to do about it."

      I wonder what do you think about that? How would you identify such organizations?
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      Nov 20 2012: I did not. I only asked why was he doing that, though. The answer was that "those were the instructions".
      Thanks for your answer!