Being in the “top rank” of countries around the world is often referred to in a positive light. But not in this instance. Our collective, wasteful traits position the land down under as the fourth-highest food waster, per capita, globally.
So, what of it? If we're paying for food, we have a right to consume, or dispose of the goods we purchase -- right? To answer this question, its best to consider the real cost of food production. The damage to our planet, for one. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has reported that if food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China. Yes, really. Use of water and energy in production; clearing of land for vegetation and livestock; transportation of goods; and, food rot in landfill releasing potent greenhouse gases all contribute to climate change ... emphasising the importance of discerning consumerism more than ever.
In Laudato si' Pope Francis invites us to consider the term ‘environment,' pointing out that what we are really referring to is 'a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it.'
"Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live,” he says. “We are part of Nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. Recognising the reasons why a given area is polluted requires a study of the workings of society, its economy, its behaviour patterns, and the ways it grasps reality. Given the scale of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature."
Unsurprisingly, Pope Francis raises some important truths. With so many people around the world dying of starvation, or severely malnourished, it's shameful to think almost one-third of all food produced goes to waste. So, while the poor go hungry, and in many cases are subjected to harsh labour, many of us privileged folk waste food, while having little to no consideration of the environmental consequences.
The good news is, we have it in our power to turn things around.
OzHarvest, one of our nation's leading food rescue organisations, reports that if a quarter of the food currently lost or wasted is saved, it would be enough to feed the world's hungry. On its website, OzHarvest lists ways we can all take small and simple steps to reduce our waste at home, in our workplaces and schools.
In addition to encouraging all Aussies to be more mindful about consumption, the organisation recently celebrated 10 years of rescuing food from donors across the Hunter, including restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and the like. During this time, OzHarvest in Newcastle has saved more than 3,000 tonnes of food from going to landfill, delivery it to charitable organisations such as the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to serve vulnerable people in our community.
Each week, the organisation's bright yellow van makes several deliveries of rescued produce to CatholicCare. CatholicCare’s staff and volunteers then use the ingredients to develop nutritious meals to nourish those who need them most, including the homeless, new migrants, people experiencing mental health issues and low-income earners.
Rob Dawson, who oversees the program, says the donations OzHarvest provides are integral to the unfunded program's operations.
"Due to the quantity and quality of food collected and donated by OzHarvest to CatholicCare, its deliveries often form the foundation ingredients for the meals we provide," Mr Dawson said.
"We're grateful for OzHarvest’s support as not only does it enable us to provide meals, but also an opportunity to reach out and offer other forms of pastoral support to those in our community who are often isolated and disadvantaged in some way."
It's projected that an additional two billion people will join the planet over the next three decades. Now is the time for us to educate ourselves and change our behaviours so that we can create a more sustainable food culture; a culture that, as the Pope suggests, takes into consideration the inextricable links between our current environmental and social crises.