Image from Country Road

What if we told you there was a way we could save 4.4 million tonnes of CO2 a year, the equivalent of taking one in four cars off the road? And that it was something we could all do, together, by rethinking our approach to food.

The way we grow, harvest, transport, sell and eat our food has become the most destructive human activity on the planet.

40 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions are created by our current food system. Food waste produces eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste was a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind the USA and China. In Australia alone, food waste accounts for more than five per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions. 

Prior to Covid-19, we were making inroads to reducing food waste. Food waste in Australia dropped almost two percentage points from an average of 12.9 per cent of food purchased in 2019 to 11.1 per cent in early 2020.  

But with more of us cooking at home more often, trying new foods and ordering more take away in 2020, we regressed.

Food waste now costs the Australian economy $10.3 billion annually. According to a new report from Rabobank, around 12.7 per cent of our grocery shop is getting thrown away.  

But it’s not just the half-eaten peanut butter sandwich that goes from the lunchbox to the school bin, or the punnet of strawberries that went missing in the vegetable crisper and have started to look a bit gnarly. 

Approximately 14 percent of the food produced globally never makes it to sale because it is too “ugly.” 

We don’t need a food system like this. And there are many reasons why we don’t actually want it.

We’ve spent the last 300 thousand years immersed in our food system and spent the last 100 years doing everything possible to remove ourselves from it. This disconnect from nature has proven to be fatal for our well-being from mental to physical health. 

Our connection with nature is primal. But what many of us forget, particularly those of us in cities, is that the connection can start in the home. 

This idea was the inspiration behind Future Food System, a self-sustaining, zero waste productive house in Melbourne’s Federation Square, that demonstrates the potential of our homes to provide shelter, produce food and generate energy. 

It may seem radical – a house that feeds off itself – but it’s not. Embracing the idea of an urban food system is incredibly exciting and has the potential to radically change how we grow food and enabling many of us to become part of the food system.

A city like Melbourne can easily feed itself and in the process eliminate waste and regenerate and rewild the damage we’ve done.

Being productive and having a sense of purpose is also the best indicator for wellbeing, there’s nothing quite like planting a seed and watching it grow.

We can all do this. There is no space too small to start growing. If you’re in an apartment, grow microgreens on a windowsill, or get a Vegepod or Vegebag for your balcony. If you’ve got a garden, install some raised beds or even a Greenhouse, and plant something seasonal. 

Once you start growing food, it becomes harder to ignore the waste. You will stock and store your food properly and learn about use by dates. You will organise your fridge so nothing can go missing in. 

You will learn to buy and order carefully. Do you really need that much food? Throwing away one burger wastes the same amount of water as a 90-minute shower.

And perhaps most importantly, you can learn about the vast array of Indigenous foods in Australia and the incredible flavours they bring to our food offering. Bruce Pascoe’s Black Duck Foods is a good place to begin. 

Reducing food waste is the 3rd most effective way to address climate change. And it’s something we can all take action on.

Last month saw International Day of Awareness on Food Loss and Waste Reduction. Our challenge to you is to take one action. 

Australians waste around 7.3 million tonnes of food a year – this wastage equals about 300kg per person. 

Our households can be engines of carbon emissions, or the foundations of positive change. Much like we’ve all taken individual responsibilities with Covid-19, by social distancing and getting vaccinated, we can also take responsibility for the way we buy, grow, consume, and preserve food. If we all take one small action, eventually we will see great change. 

Joost Bakker is a disrupter, environmental activist, and Creator of Future Food System. In 2012 Bakker opened the world’s first zero waste restaurant Silo by Joost.

Rachel Mason Nunn is the Founder and Host of Good Will Hunters podcast.

Joost and Rachel spoke about food waste and how the food system contributes to global warming with Bruce Pascoe and Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia on the latest series of Good Will Hunters.

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