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A third of Spain’s Christmas food will end up in the trash

Campaigner José Esquinas suggests using the shopping trolley as a weapon against waste

A third of the food brought in Spain for Christmas this year will end up in the trash. The contradictory nature of our economy is never more obvious than in the festive season: we produce and buy much more than we need, and this has serious social and environmental costs. This makes it an ideal time of year for José Esquinas, Professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, to participate in events raised at aimed at raising awareness about waste and attempt to “convert the shopping trolley into a weapon.”

José Esquinas outside a grocery store in Córdoba.
José Esquinas outside a grocery store in Córdoba.

“Around 800 million people in the world don't have enough food while 17 million people die of hunger every year,” he says. This is despite the fact that 1,300 million tons of food is thrown away. In Spain alone, 7.7 million tons is tossed in the garbage annually, or 169 kilograms of food per person. According to the European Commission, the amount of food waste in Europe is set to rise to 126 million tons a year by 2020.

In Spain, 7.7 million tons of food is tossed in the garbage annually, or 169 kilograms per person

“The environmental cost of this extravagance is the annual deforestation of 15 million hectares,” says Esquinas who previously held the post of director of the UN’s food and agriculture body, the FAO. “It also means cultivating 1,400 million hectares – 28 times the surface area of Spain, using the equivalent of 300 million barrels of oil in energy and a quarter of total water consumption. All this effort to produce food that is largely destined for the bin rather than consumers’ mouths.”

At the start of his career, Esquinas left the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) to work with the FAO for six months, a period which turned into 30 years. During that time he traveled the world waging war on hunger and while he recognizes the complexity of an inefficient and unjust agri-food industry, he offers easy to grasp solutions. “Think globally and act locally” is one suggestion, and “Make your shopping into a political statement” another.

Some 17% of wages spent on food

A doctor in genetics whose work was awarded by the FAO and the Spanish government four years ago, Esquinas suggests measures that favor family farms, local produce for consumers, recycling and projects aimed at working to make food accessible to the entire population. Not only would these measures significantly reduce waste they would cut food spending, which currently stands at 17% of the Spanish wage packet.

Esquinas would also like to see the government act to reduce waste during Christmas time and other big holidays. In other European countries, restaurants display information certifying the recycling of surplus, or pay more taxes corresponding to the amount of rubbish generated. Since July, French supermarkets with a surface area bigger than 400m2 have been obliged to recycle perishables.

Make your shopping into a political statement

Food campaigner, José Esquinas

At the other end of the food chain, producers and businesses are generating and distributing more than is needed. The association of manufacturers and distributers (AECOC) which accounts for 72% of Spanish purchases, says 2.42% of its products never get bought and admits that this situation is “a waste that has a great environmental, social and economic impact.”

At the last AECOC convention in Seville, president, Javier Campo proposed coordinating the demands of growth and economic viability with a sustainable, transparent and efficient development model.

So far only the supermarket group DIA, a member of the AECOC initiative against waste, has been active, collecting and donating more than 4.5 million kilograms of food this year to food banks in five different countries – Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and China, 14% more than they donated last year.

Among producers, globalization has fueled the creation of oligopolies that impose their own strategies. The multinational agrochemical company Monsanto has merged with Bayer, resulting in a corporate giant that dominates the seed and pesticide world market. Dow Chemical and DuPont have done the same thing and the trend is set to continue with questionable consequences.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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