Reflecting on Food Waste and Inclusive Environmentalism with Luciana Santerre

Luciana Santerre is an International Communication Management student from Maine, USA. Luciana has been working for Mission Zero as a student assistant since September 2020, and recently started an internship with a small team to redesign the minor Mission Impact. Her individual research is focused on food waste, inclusive environmentalism, and social justice.

“To be completely honest, I am careful about how I use the word ‘sustainability’. It feels like a catch-all word, but it is still somewhat vague for the many concepts it could be describing. Merely to ‘sustain’ our world in this time of crisis is not viable or enough.”

Food Waste in a Contemporary Society

“Often, we rely on systems built around fast access when it comes to sustaining ourselves. Even the process of getting food at a grocery store means that the consumer is unaware of the complex system and journey that it takes for food to reach them. The average person does not interact with their food until it is fully developed, packaged, and ready to be eaten.”

“This problem also includes our waste systems. While the systems that we rely on to discard our waste are necessary, it is easy for people to turn a blind eye to what happens after food waste leaves their kitchen. For example, it is easy to detach from the trash you discard out of your front door and you never have to personally manage it again once it is picked up.”

“The United Nations Environment Program just released the 2021 Food Waste Index Report. They found that an estimated 931 tons of food or 17% of total food available to consumers in 2019 was wasted (including restaurants and retailers). This clearly exemplifies how vital it is that individuals and households start to become conscientious around how they interact with food before it leaves their homes and try to find creative ways to reuse and lessen their wasteful outputs.”

Consumerism

“Consumerism and the corporate world are deeply entrenched in the issue of food waste. Mass consumerism plays a large part in the supply and demand for food production and can be a self-perpetuating cycle. Retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers are key institutions in the world’s food system. Some companies have adopted Corporate Social Responsibility into their business models, yet while food corporations promote their sustainability initiatives it can be unclear as to how effective and honest they actually are. The use of the term sustainability also can allow corporations to find loopholes to get by with implementing only company-specific adjustments without having to put in the work to reduce food waste on the large scale within their supply chain.”

“At the consumer level, there is a myriad of problems that contribute to the problem of food waste. For example, there is often confusion around understanding date labels. Date labels and sell-by dates often are the foremost indicator of whether food has become inedible, yet it bypasses the best tools to gauge that decision; using one’s senses (taste, smell, touch, etc.). Individuals have lost touch with the use of their sensory bodily functions to determine whether food has passed its time for being edible. Individuals can learn to have accountability for their food and their waste outputs.”

Small scale action and social solidarity

“What feels like small-scale action is much larger than you might think. Awareness and solidarity are extremely important for the topic of food waste since it is a global problem that massively contributes to the climate crisis but is not talked about as much. Not wasting food can take practice and creativity but everyone has the ability to do it.”

“Often in environmental movements and even with individuals who are trying to be more eco-conscious, there is a feeling that as an individual there is no point to engage because it is the big corporations and businesses who are having the largest impact. Regarding food waste, it is an issue that every person can confront within the comfort of their home because that’s where a lot of the problem exists.”

“Social solidarity is also incredibly important because many people don’t enjoy the feeling of opposing social norms on their own. It’s much easier to change your own behavior if it doesn’t conflict with how others around you act. The more food waste is a conversation in our homes, at our tables, and in our communities, the more potential there is to make a change at the household level.”

Inclusive Environmentalism

“In terms of the environmental movement, it is a crucial time to welcome more inclusive forms of environmentalism. Such as fighting for the rights of people across the identity spectrum. There are incredible leaders especially BIPOC, women, and non-binary folks who are guiding the movement to extend ‘sustainability’ to be more inclusive and intentional.”

“Engaging with environmentalism in 2021 requires acknowledging those who are impacted first and most profoundly by environmental injustices. If it wasn’t apparent to some before, the COVID-19 crisis has further pulled the curtain to reveal the depths to which the environmental crisis is inextricably linked to systematic racism and systems of oppression. I think that being interested in “sustainability” means recognizing these relationships and the responsibility for individuals to educate themselves and consider how there can even be hidden roots of oppression disguised within positive environmental efforts.”

Where to begin with reducing your waste

“To be completely honest, I am careful about how I use the word ‘sustainability’. It feels like a catch-all word, but it is still somewhat vague for the many concepts it could be describing. Merely to ‘sustain’ our world in this time of crisis is not viable or enough.”

 “A great place to start is in your own kitchen. Take notice of the foods that are forgotten in the back of your fridge or cupboards. Start to shop based on how to make meals out of what you already have and be intentional with your consumption habits. It is also good to shop based on what foods are in season. Make small changes to your life so it doesn’t feel drastic, but the change is still there. Learn how to properly store food to understand what needs moisture, darkness, and also what foods should and shouldn’t be near each other. Some foods like onions, apples, and bananas emit ethylene gas as they ripen. An example of foods that should be kept separate is onions and potatoes. They release moisture which can cause the other to spoil faster. Many households have not learned how to properly store, preserve and prepare food, so that is a good place to start. Take what you already have and try to make it last longer.”

“Also, start to have conversations with people in your life about food waste. If the topic of food waste and education can be initiated in our communities, families and at our dinner tables, the greater potential is to have a collective impact.”