We live in a world of food waste. Every year more than 1.3 billion tons of edible food worth nearly $1 trillion is wasted. How much is that in practical terms? One third of all the food produced for humans. This, while more than 800 million people around the globe are starving. Food waste is not only unethical, but also environmentally destructive. Food waste that ends in landfills produces a large amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
As opposed to “food loss,” food lost during harvest, storage and transportation, "food waste” refers to food that is thrown away at supermarkets, restaurants or by end-use consumers. In low-income regions, more food is wasted in the production stage whereas in higher income regions, food waste occurs further along the supply chain. Not surprisingly, consumer food waste is greatest in North America, with Europe not far behind.
Many countries in the world are finding ways to reduce food waste and there is much we can learn from their efforts as this is a global issue in need of local solutions. Italy has made considerable effort and it is making a difference.
Despite food being an essential part of Italian culture, a 2016 survey of 400 Italian families showed that each one wasted nearly 188 pounds of food each year, worth over $10 billion in Italy as a whole.
In the same year, Italy passed a law to limit food waste, making it easier for grocers to donate unsold food, incentivized by tax rebates. Paul Hutter, who runs Eco dalle Cittá, started an organization that recruited asylum seekers from Africa to collect, recycle and distribute foods at Porta Palazzo, Europe’s largest open-air market in Turin. In addition to reducing waste, this fostered better relations between the migrants and the locals.
Inspired by the project in Turin, Francesco Fanoli, an anthropologist, and Viola de Andrade Piroli, a Pilates teacher, spent several afternoons at the Alberone open-air market, close to Rome’s tourist attractions, convincing shopkeepers to give away their unsold food to help the hungry. Once the market closes for the day, shop owners put up a sign, “Raccolta e Distribuzione Gratis” (free collection and distribution), giving away the leftover produce instead of throwing it away. This initiative has been groundbreaking in helping the needy and also cutting waste.
Since 1989, the Fondazione Banco Alimentare Onlus has collected foodstuffs from the food industry, large-scale retail outlets and catering services and Banco Alimentare Network (Italian Foodbank Network), with the help of volunteers, distributes this food to the poor. They also organize National Food Collection Day, involving civil society and raising awareness of food poverty.
Dutch global supermarket giant SPAR through its Italian partner Aspiag Service, donated 1,000 tons of unsold food to local charities in 2020 as a part of their commitment to reduce food waste and help people in need.
The Eighth National Day of Food Waste Prevention was February 5, 2021. Its theme was “One Health, One Planet.” A new initiative, Waste Watcher International, was presented by Andrea Segré, an economist from the University of Bologna. He explained, “The commitment to sustainable development and waste prevention requires behavioral monitoring and data collection.” In Italy, his National Day was promoted by the Italian Ministry for the Environment as part of its Zero Waste campaign.
Since the 2016 law went into effect, 6 out of 10 persons interviewed said they have reduced their food waste, showing that Italians are becoming more aware of this issue. According to the latest data from Waste Watcher 2020, almost 7 out of 10 Italians believe that there is a connection between food waste and environmental and human health and support the idea that one way to prevent food waste is by increasing awareness in schools.
This year at the UN Pre-summit on Food Systems, Segré put the spotlight on the Mediterranean Diet and how with its local food and culinary traditions, Italy is positioned to be a leader in sustainable food systems. Deputy Foreign Minister Marina Sereni added that the Italian approach to reducing food waste, based on human rights, support for small scale producers, cooperatives, and local communities can also be applied to the global issues of sustainability.
If you want to do your part, then resolve to make a difference, only take what you will eat, eat everything, waste nothing, and spend less.
- Order less or take half home at restaurants.
- Buy only what you need, in season.
- Freeze food you cannot consume right away.
- Store food in clear containers where you are most likely to see leftovers.
- Cook smart. Create new dishes with leftovers.
- Compost everything but meat or dairy products.
Diana Lucarino-Diekmann, has been working in the field of Health and Fitness since 1980 helping others achieve optimal health and happiness. She has a BA in Exercise Physiology as well as Pilates and Yoga certifications and an extensive knowledge of nutrition and disease. Having taught almost every type of exercise class, she now specializes in Yoga, Pilates, meditation, and mindfulness, not only in exercise but also in life.
The contents of “The Healthy Italian” are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or your personal health.