Feed the world, help make it a better place

Feed the world, help make it a better place

Less privileged children in Klong Toey eat lunch made largely from nearly-expired ingredients donated by a supermarket operator as part of an initiative to cut food wastage. Patipat Janthong
Less privileged children in Klong Toey eat lunch made largely from nearly-expired ingredients donated by a supermarket operator as part of an initiative to cut food wastage. Patipat Janthong

The world is awash with food. Yet nearly a billion people are going to bed hungry every night.

It is hard to believe that just a few decades ago people were worrying about population growth and our ability to feed everyone. Now there is enough food to feed the whole world and more.

It's harder to believe that many people, including citizens in some of the richest as well as food-producing countries, don't have enough to eat.

Harder to believe still is that so much excess food is either thrown away or left to rot.

Statistics about food wastage are astounding. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, one-third of the food produced worldwide is wasted. That's equivalent to 1,300 million tonnes a year.

If just a quarter of that could be recovered, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people around the world. Incredibly, one in four children under five is malnourished.

In Thailand, a country that aspires to be "the world's kitchen", about 11% of children under five are malnourished, according to Unicef.

This is inexcusable in a country where 27 million tonnes of municipal waste was generated in 2013 and 60% of that was food.

I'm afraid few people here are aware of the atrocious situation we are in. We are literally surrounded by food. So, if a bit of food goes to waste, who cares? I sigh every time I have to dump leftovers into the bin. But what alternatives do I have?

If I were in Taiwan, I could have dumped it in a bucket, waited for a garbage truck convoy to come around, and then emptied that into the truck for food waste so it could be taken to a pig farm or fertiliser compost station.

If I have to wait for the government to take serious action to remedy the situation, then I might not live long enough to see it.

It's heartening, therefore, to see some members of the private sector take the initiative in addressing this scourge.

Early this year, the Anantara Siam-Bangkok Hotel launched a programme to cut down on leftover food from its all-you-can-eat buffet.

General manager Patrick Both claims that so far the hotel has managed to reduce the amount of leftover food by 70%, saving the equivalent of 500,000 baht.

The hotel achieved this feat with the help of a Singapore-based technology company that specialises in food-waste reduction.

The company, Winnow, installed a system in Anantara's kitchen that keeps a precise measurement of the food being thrown away each day. This data keeps the five-star hotel informed about its guests and their food preferences.

It also helps chefs to plan how they are going to prepare meals. Food stations are moved around, designed to draw guests to the food they are most likely to consume. In this way, not so many of the other dishes need to be prepared, thus cutting down potential wastage.

The hotel's executive chef Jan Van Dyk admits the programme increases his work load. But he says the scheme suits an ethos that many chefs aspire to of running an efficient kitchen with minimum food wastage.

Maxime Pourrat, Winnow's managing director, estimates that 1.6 tonnes of food a year have been kept from landfills.

This also helps mitigate climate change because food waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas more concentrated than carbon dioxide.

Mr Both says sustainable development is the goal for the investment. "Sustainability helps the bottom line," he says, adding that it more than compensates for the investment cost.

A number of hotels in Thailand have installed Winnow's technology.

Supermarket operator Tesco Lotus a few years ago took the initiative to reduce food wastage by directly purchasing from growers.

This enables them to plan their growing to match market demand, thus avoiding overproduction and cutting down on storage costs as well as wasted food.

The fruit and vegetables produced under this arrangement have a longer shelf life because they come directly from the farms.

Tesco Lotus also gives away fresh food and food products near their expiry date to schools, non-governmental organisations and charities.

Hopefully, operators of businesses dealing with food will see the benefit of cutting down food waste -- not just for the environment but also for their bottom line.

Who knows? Private sector initiatives of this ilk may even inspire the government to put waste reduction at the top of the national agenda, as it should. Maybe I'll even live to see that happen.

Wasant Techawongtham is a former news editor, Bangkok Post.

Wasant Techawongtham

Freelance Reporter

Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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