Have you ever visited a grocery store during winter, almost at the closing time saw shelves full of beautiful oranges, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables? Isn’t that a little bit strange? I mean, it is winter and those things grow in the summer and now is almost closing time, but still, you have all the choices that you could imagine in front of you. Afraid to say, but that luxury comes with a big price.
The way we eat and what we eat today is quite recent and it differs just from the time of our grandparents. It is shaped due to economy, liberalization, globalization, laws and the rise of the ‘Big Food’, multinational food and beverage companies with huge and concentrated power (Stuckler & Nestle, 2012). This competitive industry is driven by the market and it is designed around profit. In today’s modernist, capital driven society food industry has evolved and created a system where we have access to cheap, fresh and diverse produce whole year long and all that in a walking distance. Since retail stores are competing for the customers, they will provide them with the best service and experience. By doing that they are creating food waste and leaving a big environmental footprint behind them (EuroComerce, 2017).
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted and the industry is responsible for 3.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions a year. (FAO, n.d.) The food waste occurs at all stages of the supply chain, from primary production to the households. In Denmark, retailers are responsible for 23% of the total waste and out of that number 38% are fruits and vegetables (The Danish Environmental Protection Agency, 2017).
The root causes why food waste occurs in the retail stores we can divide into three categories. The first are natural constraints, fruits and vegetables are products that have a short life span and their freshness is sensitive to logistical processes including transport, storage and sales conditions (Mena, Adenso-Diaz, & Yurt, 2011). The second are mega-trends which include increasingly high standards for the visual appearance and freshness of produce, stocking out of the season produce, a diverse variety and keeping shelves full (Mena, Adenso-Diaz, & Yurt, 2011). And third are management practices and decisions that are occurring due to forecasting difficulties and poor ordering. Economic efficiency is another challenge, where companies import products from the suppliers that are far away rather than from the local producers because of the low prices and availability. To preserve fresh produce requires a cool chain and that is especially important during the warmer weather. Having a broken cool chain may lead to a shorter life span resulting in increased wastage. (Mena, Adenso-Diaz, & Yurt, 2011). What we might conclude from these practices is that this wasteful system becomes entirely unconscious and natural within a “culture of abundance” (Walter Leal Filho, 2015).
It is clear that current system is not optimal and it doesn’t need improvements, but rather requires transition shifts to new kinds of systems, it requires sustainable transitions based od on interconnectedness and inter-dependency of social, economic, political and environmental aspects. (Geels, 2001). To analyze this problem and possibly offer a long-term vision for transition pathways towards a more sustainable food system, I will apply MLP (Multi-Level Perspective) (Geels, 2001).
As depicted in visual MLP representation above, we can see that the problem of food waste is part of complex socio-technical systems that is shaped over the years due to pressures from the landscape level, factors like the rise in population numbers and a need for constant economic growth. Due to those pressures, the regime has adapted and developed system and technologies to serve those purposes. Along the way, it got reinforced and stabilized trough mega logistics, infrastructure, laws (e.g. EU quality and esthetical standards) and culture (e.g. culture of high expectations).
Slowly, but over time conditions on the landscape level have changed due to consequences of activates within the regime. The consequences came in the form of climate change, lost in biodiversity, bad nutrition, health issues and so on. Those conditions opened a window of opportunity for creating innovations that arise as a response to certain problems.
Social initiative solutions emerge from inventiveness and creativity of a variety of actors: ordinary people, communities, grassroots technicians and entrepreneurs, local institutions and civic society organizations. In other words, they represent potential ways of living well while at the same time consuming fewer resources and generating new patterns of social cohabitation (Ceschin, 2014).
In response to the food waste problem, there was an innovation curve of using technology. Today we have already established and widely used applications like Too Good To Go, Your Local, but also other initiatives like food hubs, local distributors specialized in locally grown, food tech startups with a disruptive strategy to replace grocery stores with internet-based retailing.
As mentioned before, logistics that surround produce is a complex process with many uncertainties that are leading to unnecessary food waste and climate change. One of the models that is going against the mainstream regime is Grim. Grim provides a model Food as a service by taking unwanted, esthetically not appealing fruits and vegetables from the local producers and offering them in boxes directly to the end consumer, skipping retailer stage of the supply chain and by that, we mean cool chain, long-distance transport, warehousing, and other infrastructure that retailers need to have. (Grim, 2018).
Rood Food, a Swedish startup that is using rescued surplus food from the sellers and putting back on the consumer’s plates trough catering service. In the mainstream, at the margins, there are for example soup kitchens for the food endangered population. Those who ever donated or rescue food, like sad potato or banana becoming brown, they were also sending the message that those groups are there to eat what is not good enough. What is happening, is that layer of society that produced this waste is not eating their own waste. This is the moment when Rood Food stepped in and proclaim them as their audience. They want to put food back on the tables that produced this waste. That is the main idea of the concept, to make people aware of the problem and to sell it through the catering mainstream publics who never thought of it. (Rood Food, 2019).
L.A. Green Grounds also known as Gangsta gardening started in what’s called a “food desert” in South LA. In this area, people do not have access to healthy food, where the food system made people suffer from diabetes, obesity and other health issues related to poor nutrition. The L.A. Green Grounds gardening is a part of the movement named guerrilla gardening, which is by definition illegal cultivation of someone else’s land. (Adams, Hardman, & Larkham, 2013). The L.A. Green Grounds has been started by Ron Finley when he finally came to the realization that cities were designed for the interests of commerce, not people: “If cities were designed for people, they would look more like forests, and be lush and beautiful, and the air would be clean” (Finley, 2014). It all started with turning small patches of land between the sidewalks and parking lots into edible gardens. Over a short period of time, the whole community joined in and soon after other organizations. They started to resist to be a part of a manufactured reality that was manufactured for them. These gardens become a tool of education, a tool for the transformation of the community. It’s all voluntarily based, bringing the community together to replenish it and create a healthy and more sustainable life (Finley, 2014).
It is not likely that these niches will replace the current regime anytime soon because the regime is always adapting. They are still at the local level, but they have the potential to reach global niche level. What is important is that they provide seeds for change and space for learning processes, e.g. learning by doing, learning by using and learning by interacting (Rosenberg, 1976; Von Hippel, 1988; Lundvall, 1988). They show us a different perspective on the same problem, formulating it differently. But between them, there is a common thread and those are the values; healthy society, embedding with the environment, fresh local produce, transparency, ecological farming and resilient regional economies.
Adams, D., Hardman, M., & Larkham, P. (2013). Exploring guerrilla gardening: gauging public views on the grassroots activity.
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