The Issue of Food Waste During a Pandemic

October 2020

As the majority of us muddle through the post pandemic wake, and attempt to regain control of our daily lives, a myriad of global issues persist, many of them aggravated by the current state of Western society. The issue of food waste, a byproduct of our intrinsically flawed food system, has been acutely exacerbated by the after effects of Covid-19. Following months of quarantine and lockdown, farmers who would normally supply restaurants, bars, schools, and others in the food service industry, were forced to harvest and bury crops or leave them in heaps to rot, emitting clouds of methane gas in the process. As stadiums, cruise lines and hotels closed their doors, farmers and food producers had no choice but to dump tons of supplies since repurposing products or searching out alternative buyers was too costly; all while the demand on food banks and other organizations supporting the food insecure population grows. And it’s no surprise that this new set of challenges brought on by the pandemic is not only a detriment to farmers, producers and the hungry, but to our climate as well.

Over the past six months, household consumption rose drastically as Western consumers rushed to the stores to stock up on everything from meat and produce to canned goods. Although weekly meal-planning and home cooking have been on the rise in many homes, oftentimes people have been buying substantially more and food and other household products than they could possibly consume before it went bad. Grocery store shelves were cleared, but many made rash, bulk purchases with no plans for immediate use or long-term storage. While some households shifted toward more planning and less waste, others increased their daily volume of refuse.

Although the pandemic may have worsened the issue, food loss and waste has been negatively affecting our global climate for decades. Pre-Covid, our country was already allowing around 40% of the food it produced to go to waste. The challenge to rectifying the problem is linked to an unsustainable food system, which developed unchecked, in response to a population explosion and major shifts in consumer purchasing habits during the 20th century. And the solution lies within a multi-faceted paradox of declining soil health, exploited resources, climate change and over-production.

Numerous organizations are using the pandemic and its far-reaching effects to highlight the current crisis of food loss and waste. Bridging the gap between overproduction and food insecurity is a monumental task, but one that can only be accomplished if all the stakeholders take action, starting with conscious decisions about food consumption. Below are some of our favorite food waste and sustainability resources providing insight on an issue that will take a global community to rectify, yet begins in the home.