The Future of Food: Saving the World by 2040

Last week, I attended another talk at the General Assembly. However, instead of being taught how to be a badass (that’s now fully ingrained after last time –, I learnt about food waste. I took my eco-conscious work colleague Louise, whom I could tell was immediately regretting coming once she saw my frantic notetaking. ‘How can you have anything to write about?’ she exclaimed exasperatedly, ‘the talk hasn’t even started yet’. I couldn’t face telling her that I’d spotted the venue was using carbon friendly bamboo toilet paper and I’d gotten overexcited.

The talk consisted of three speakers, each working for start-ups that actively try to combat the problem of food waste. The panellists conveyed shocking facts on food waste, demonstrating both its prevalence within modern-day society, and its detrimental impact on the environment. I discovered that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted each year and learnt that if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouses gases.

Jamie Crummie, the co-founder and director of Too Good To Go, spoke first. He explained that food waste impacts us in three ways; environmentally, socially and economically. Environmentally, greenhouse gases arise from the resources used to produce food, and from the disposal of the wasted food products. Economically, the UK spends £20 billion a year discarding wasted food. Lastly, the social impact of food waste is severe, as food poverty affects 8 million in the UK alone. This figure is devastating when we consider the sheer quantity of food that is discarded each year.

Jamie’s app, Too Good To Go, connects businesses with consumers to redistribute unsold food products at reduced prices. Their clients include Morrisons, Café Nero and Lola’s. Jamie’s vision is to achieve zero food waste. To accomplish this goal, his company also focuses on education and public affairs, actively working to change policies and educational systems. Jamie defines tech as ‘the catalyst for change’, as it has the power to alter public perception which will, in turn, inspire change.

Heather Lynch is an Associate at Oddbox, the first sustainable fruit and vegetable service to exist. Heather began her talk by focusing on potatoes. She pointed out that 20% of potatoes never make it out of the farm, as they do not fit the type specifications set by supermarkets. They are either too small, large, or blemished. To reduce this waste, Oddbox work with local suppliers, taking surplus that does not fit supermarket specifications, and resupplying it. Oddbox use very little plastic, and they offer to collect and recycle the carboard boxes their vegetables are delivered in. They also distribute leftover stock to food banks.

Michael Barsties is the Head of the Food Waste Heroes programme at Olio. Olio is an app that connects those with surplus food to those that require food and live in close proximity. He explains that food waste does occur largely in supermarkets and businesses but there is also a significant quantity of food waste that takes place in the home. Michael believes in voting for change. Although, as the General Election took place the week before, he jokes we have just failed to do so. He explains that voting for change is more diverse than just voting politically. Michael insists on voting with your money, as every decision you make is a vote. By choosing to buy seasonal products at regional independent businesses, we can reduce our carbon footprint.

Learning about the future of food was enlightening, albeit slightly terrifying. My biggest take home was the realisation that food waste is a problem that I should be actively tackling on an individual level. Corporates should take on more responsibility to reduce their food wastage, as they do generate a large quantity of it. However, that does not mean we should sit back complacently, as individual actions can make a difference too. Since attending the talk, I have taken small steps to reduce my own food waste, these include buying little and often, meal prepping, and favouring seasonal fruit and vegetables.