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Trianon Scientific Communication

From farm to trash: How Food Social Security model could solve waste and hunger

From farm to trash: How Food Social Security model could solve waste and hunger

Have you ever wondered why we throw away so much food while millions go hungry?

It's a puzzling paradox that highlights the deep connection between food waste and food security.

Let's dive into this crucial issue and explore an innovative solution that's gaining traction: Food Social Security model.

The Food Waste Dilemma

Imagine filling your shopping cart, only to dump a third of it in the trash before leaving the store. Sounds crazy, right? Yet that's essentially what's happening on a global scale. We're producing enough food to feed everyone, but a shocking amount never reaches a plate.

This waste isn't just about forgotten leftovers in your fridge. It's a systemic problem that stretches from farm to fork.

First, let's clarify two terms that are often confused:

1. What are Food Loss and Food Waste?

Food Loss

This is like accidentally dropping your ice cream cone. It refers to unintentional reductions in food quantity or quality before it reaches consumers.

It involves:

  • Crops left unharvested due to market prices

  • Produce discarded for not meeting cosmetic standards

  • Food spoiling during transport or storage

  • Excess inventory in supermarkets

  • Crops damaged by pests or milk spoiling due to lack of refrigeration during transport.

Food Waste

This is more like throwing away a half-eaten sandwich because you're full. It's the intentional discarding of food that's still good to eat. It includes:

  • All those vegetables forgotten in your fridge or

  • Uneaten meals in restaurants and homes

Each wasted morsel represents lost resources, wasted labor, and most importantly, a missed opportunity to feed someone in need.

2. The Hidden Cost of Food Waste: A Global Challenge

In a world capable of producing enough food for everyone, the scale of food waste has reached unprecedented levels. This waste occurs at every stage of the food supply chain, from farm to fork, and represents a significant challenge in our efforts to feed a growing global population sustainably.

Believe it or not, about one-third of all food produced globally is lost or wasted. That's like making three pizzas and throwing one away entirely![1]

This amounts is a staggering 1.3 billion tons of edible food each year.

In industrialized countries, at least 40% of food is wasted at retail and consumer levels.

The European Union alone generates an estimated 88 million tonnes of food waste annually, with households responsible for more than half of this amount.

This wastage isn't just about discarded leftovers. It represents a massive loss of nutrients, especially from fruits and vegetables, which suffer the highest levels of waste due to their perishability.

Ironically, while nutritious food is being thrown away, up to 811 million people worldwide struggle to afford quality meals daily.[2]

3. The Environmental impact of food waste

The environmental impact is equally alarming. Food waste contributes to 8%-10% of greenhouse gas emissions and wastes vast amounts of land, water, and energy used in food production.[3]

Financially, the cost is enormous, with the EU's annual food waste estimated at 143 billion euros.

Addressing this issue is crucial for creating a more sustainable and equitable food system.

By preventing food loss and waste, we can save nutritious food for redistribution, reduce pressure on natural resources, help mitigate climate change, and save money across the entire food supply chain.

4. How does this affect food security?

Food security means having reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.

On the flip side of this wasteful abundance, we have a global hunger crisis. Food security remains out of reach for millions. It's like having a leaky water pipe in a desert; there's plenty of water, but it's not getting to those who need it most.

Current approaches, like food banks and donations, while well-intentioned, often fall short.

They treat the symptoms rather than addressing the root causes of food insecurity.

When we waste food or lose it before it reaches people, we're essentially taking food off someone's plate.

Here's how:

  • Less Available Food: Every bit of food lost or wasted is food that can't feed hungry people.

  • Higher Food Prices: Food loss and waste can drive up food prices, making it harder for people to afford nutritious meals.[4]

Think of it like a leaky water bucket. If we're trying to provide water (food) to everyone, but there are holes in our bucket (loss and waste), we'll always struggle to meet everyone's needs.

5. What can we do?

  • Use better technology:

Improving harvesting, storage, and transportation methods can reduce food loss. It's like upgrading from a paper bag to a lunchbox to keep your sandwich fresh.

  • Consumer education:

Teaching people about meal planning, proper food storage, and the impact of waste can help reduce food waste at home.

  • Circular economy approaches:

This involves finding ways to reuse or recycle food that would otherwise be wasted. For example, turning overripe fruits into jams or using food scraps for composting.

Vegetable soup made with waste
Vegetable soup

  • Food donation:

These initiatives collect surplus food from restaurants and stores to distribute to those in need, like a city-wide leftover sharing system.

The institutionalization of food aid is often presented as a way to reduce waste.

The Belgian food industry wastes 161 kg of food per inhabitant per year, compared to ‘only’ 59 kg in the Netherlands, 29 kg in France and even only 19 kg in Germany. This puts Belgium almost at the bottom of the European ranking; only Cyprus does even worse.[5]

The problem is that 95% of food aid comes from the agro-industry. This mechanism reinforces the functioning of the industrial system, which, to maximize its profit, is in constant overproduction, thus producing consumable waste. Tax deductions related to food donations help reduce the cost of this overproduction. This mechanism, which makes the agro-industrial system appear philanthropic, is in reality a masquerade. Food donation contributes to the profitability and legitimacy of the agro-industrial system, while distributing poor quality products.

Food donation
Food donation

Food donation is often presented as a fight against food waste, but it treats people resorting to aid as "ethical garbage bins". Moving away from this donation logic and fighting against food waste are not incompatible. An upward exit from food donation is necessary to establish a right to food and real food sovereignty. [6]

Food Social Security: an inspring model?

Now, imagine a system where everyone has a guaranteed budget for quality food, just like how many countries ensure access to healthcare through social security. That's the idea behind the Food Social Security model proposes to extend the principle of health social security to access to quality and chosen food for all. This idea is based on the principles of unity, universality, democracy, and solidarity.

Here's how it could work:

  • Universal Coverage: Every citizen gets a monthly food allowance on their "food card" (think health insurance card, but for groceries).

  • Quality Assurance: The allowance can only be used for products meeting certain standards of quality, sustainability, and fair labor practices.

  • Democratic Control: Citizens have a say in defining these standards, promoting a more democratic food system.

  • Local Emphasis: The system encourages local production and consumption, reducing waste in transport and storage.

  • Fair Compensation: Farmers and food workers receive fair compensation, addressing the economic disparities that often lead to waste and food insecurity.

Connecting the Dots: How Food Social Security addresses both waste and security

Food Social Security could tackle both sides of the food waste-security equation by:

  • Reducing Waste:

By ensuring a stable market for quality produce, Food Social Security discourages overproduction and reduces the likelihood of food being wasted due to market fluctuations.

  • Enhancing Security:

With a guaranteed food budget, no one has to choose between eating and other necessities. This universal access promotes better nutrition and reduces reliance on emergency food aid.

  • Empowering Choices:

 Food Social Security allows people to choose their food, rather than relying on whatever's available at a food bank. This dignity of choice is a crucial aspect of true food security.

  • Supporting Sustainable Practices:

By setting standards for eligible products,  Food Social Security can encourage more sustainable farming practices, which often produce less waste.

  • Strengthening Local Systems:

Emphasizing local production can shorten supply chains, reducing opportunities for waste while ensuring fresher food reaches consumers.[7]

Of course, implementing such a system isn't without challenges. It would require significant political will, new funding mechanisms, and a shift in how we think about food as a society. Questions about cost, administration, and potential impacts on the current food industry would need to be addressed.

However, when we consider the enormous costs - both financial and human - of our current wasteful and inequitable food system, the potential benefits of Food Social Security become clear.

The Big Picture: The Water-Energy-Food

Experts are increasingly looking at food security as part of a bigger picture that includes water and energy. These three elements are closely connected. For instance, producing food requires water and energy, and wasting food means we're also wasting the water and energy used to produce it.

Understanding these connections can help us develop more effective solutions. It's like solving a puzzle – when we see how all the pieces fit together, we can create better strategies to ensure everyone has access to the food, water, and energy they need.


Reducing food loss and waste is a critical step in improving global food security. While the challenge is complex, every action counts – from governments implementing new policies to individuals being more mindful about their grocery shopping and leftovers.

Food Social Security represents a bold reimagining of our food system, one that could address the twin challenges of waste and insecurity. By treating food as a fundamental right, much like healthcare in many countries, we could create a more equitable, sustainable, and efficient way of feeding our communities.

As we face growing environmental challenges and persistent inequality, innovative solutions like FSS deserve our attention. After all, in a world that produces more than enough food to feed everyone, shouldn't we find a way to get it to those who need it most?

What do you think? Could Food Social Security be the ingredient we've been missing in our recipe for a better food system? The table is set for change - it's up to us to take the first bite.


[4] Agriculture & Food Security volume 10, Article number: 26 (2021)


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