A Well-Managed Food System
For the past few years, food waste has received increasing attention at governmental, academic and societal levels. Despite having economic, environmental, health and poverty implications, food waste has emerged due to the behaviour of people towards food consumption i.e. consumer behaviour. Thus, food waste is a serious issue that needs to be addressed due to its impact especially on the potential reduction strategies.
Before this, not many people understand how waste can affect the environment. The truth is, food waste contributes to greenhouse emissions which can destroy the natural ecosystem. Moreover, from the economic point of view, food waste represents an increment of consumer’s expenses. Sometimes, we never realise that, food waste also makes food less accessible to the poor and increase the number of hungry people in our society.
In a nation, food security represents as an economic resilience where the nation manages to retain the supply of food domestically even when there is chaos in the food market globally. Food waste however, affects food security in terms of food supply management when less food is available to the society. Food insecurity affects the assurance to access food at different levels including individual, household or country.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), almost 150kg for each household produces food waste annually. This figure should be taken into consideration by everyone in the society to ensure the food security is not affected. The reason we need to retain the acceptable level of food security is simply because many people are still in need of nutritious food for the sake of survival. Statistically, one in every nine people in the world’s population suffers from hunger while one in every three suffers from malnutrition due to insufficient food supply. But until today, we also face the problem whereby many people throw away unconsumed food daily.
Malnutrition is a major health concern in Malaysia. It is a form of deprivation. A study by the United Nations children’s programme found that Malaysian children suffered from stunting more than those in Ghana, despite Malaysia’s GDP per capita being six times higher. The prevalence of stunting has also increased in a decade from 2006 until 2016. In the same period, wasting among children has decreased, but it still remains high as in every 10 children in Malaysia, one is wasting. Stunting and wasting are the characteristics of malnutrition that can cause impairment of growth stemming from insufficient food and poor nutrition. Moreover, it can affect a child’s cognitive abilities later in life.
Efficient, well-managed and sustainable food systems are essential to end hunger and malnutrition as well as to protect the environment and its long term food production capacity. Thus, reducing food waste is a priority to improve the sustainability of food systems. In order to reduce food waste successfully, everyone should have a clear understanding on the factors of consumer behaviour related to food waste. Consumers’ food waste behaviours are directly related to individual planning and shopping routines, overview on food stocks, knowledge and know-how in storage and cooking, and knowledge on whether food can still be used or otherwise. It is all about household capabilities and food management knowledge.
Consumers tend to buy too much food and care too little about the risk of wastage. They always buy more than needed but have poor storage or stock management at home. Ultimately, food is discarded in packaging due to confusion over ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates. The date labelling on the food packaging also often create misunderstanding among consumers. Hence, consumers need to be educated about the meaning of date labelling, the importance of limited shelf life and temperature control for safe food handling.
Individual attitudes also is one of the factors that can cause household food waste. To solve the problem, it must involve direct communication and awareness-raising campaigns. Others may require the support and cooperation of the food industry itself, such as improving the clarity of food date labelling and advice on food storage, or ensuring that appropriate portion sizes is available to meet the needs of different households. These efforts could enhance the consumers’ awareness and knowledge in reducing food waste.
From the beginning, the government has been actively involved in organising food waste campaigns. Therefore, there is a high chance for the government to build a positive relationship with the public and NGOs by increasing engagement and enhancing communication effectively. Awareness campaigns together with educational programmes are some collaborative actions that can be taken by both the government and NGOs to increase public awareness on food waste. Thus, consumers could potentially acquire good prevention behaviour skills as it will elevate the positive attitude of Malaysian households toward food waste issues.
Consumer’s motivation to avoid food waste and management skills of food provisioning have an extensive influence on their food waste behaviours. Consumers become more alert to their responsibility in preventing food waste which makes them gain more knowledge actively. Personal attitudes of consumers towards eating habits, shopping behaviour, storage of edible foods and reuse of leftovers do play an important role in an individual’s intention to reduce food waste.
Reducing food waste is fundamental to obtain a sustainable food system. Thus, more monitoring and evaluation are required at all stages of the food chain. In terms of food preparation, government campaigns could focus on enhancing household planning skills and routines. Furthermore, for the consumptions habits, educational programmes should be raised about dietary requirements, food purchase, storage, handling and food waste management.
Islam prohibits wasteful behaviour and the attitude of exceeding the limits of normality in consumption. At the same time, it promotes the culture of moderation in consumption. The Quran (surah al-Furqan verse 67) commends such a behaviour, “And (they are) those who, when they spend, do not do so, excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that (justly) moderate”. Thus, food waste should be avoided by prioritising needs. Small steps that start from home will give a great impact on the society and country.