A Canadian farmer has taken up the sustainability challenge for Earth Day 2021 by taking to TikTok to clear up misconceptions of his livelihood. The 23-year-old Haydon J. Fox challenges his 557 400 followers on the popular video-sharing app to take a long-term focus on reducing food waste.
Earth Day, celebrated today, is an annual event aimed at raising global support for protection of the environment and conservation. And with food waste contributing up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, many are also placing a spotlight on sustainable eating.
In his recent viral video with over a million views, Fox also calls out the food industry and its use of expiration dates. This, while explaining that throwing out food because it has “expired” contributes to a global food crisis.
This is also a huge concern in SA
A WWF research study showed that in Mzansi, 10 million tonnes of food go to waste every year. Fruits, vegetables, and cereals account for 70% of the waste lost across the food supply chain.
“I literally work all year long growing this food for 60% of it to be thrown into the garbage… Expiration dates on your packages just indicate peak freshness,” said Fox in his viral video.
He is a cash crop farmer who grows wheat, oats, soybeans, corn and hay on a farm in Cayuga in Ontario.
“If you eat this food before this date sure you’ll get the best taste… These food processors shorten the expiry dates, so you throw it in the garbage, and you buy more.”
And while Fox has become an instant warrior against food wastage, he did jokingly add that people should rather not drink the milk that had been chilling in the fridge for more than six months. His mission, according to a Buzzfeed interview, is simply to tell consumers that they are being tricked into throwing out perfectly good food.
“People need to know that expiration dates are a marketing tactic,” he said.
The slippery (food waste) slope
Meanwhile Fox’s sentiments are echoed by Dr Naudé Malan, founder of the Soweto-based Izindaba Zokudla. He told Food For Mzansi that expiration dates are often not accurate as the food often is still edible.
“Those dates are established by food technologists and food scientists. It is a mandatory regulation to protect the store from legal liabilities, but it also does indicate how long food can stay fresh,” he explained.
Slow Food Southern Africa councillor Caroline McCann also clarified that the use of expiration dates has become an urbanised problem in the crisis of food waste.
“Within the city context is really where this problem comes into its own. We have been taught that a sell-by date is a ‘do not eat me date’.
“Legally the sell-by date is not the point at which it becomes dangerous to consume. That sell-by date is an indicative date for when food is at its best and after that spoilage can start.
“It is not that it is guaranteed, or it becomes dangerous for consumption, but somehow that is what we treat it as. We treat it as a robot. Green is go until that date and then it is red.
“In our rural areas we don’t face it if you think about fresh food. These families harvest from the field, cook, prepare, eat and enjoy.”
So, think before you toss
Malan makes a chilling revelation about so-called expiration dates. He says it is a tricky situation to toss out food when you think it is not edible, especially in a country like Mzansi, where hunger is rife.
“There are all kinds of unintended impacts with these food labels,” said Malan, who lectures at the University of Johannesburg.
‘It is a very sad story. What usually happens is they take the food off the shelf when it is still edible, and they throw it away.’
“Supermarkets are not allowed to gift the food to poor people, so what then happens is they throw it away and the same poor people who could have received it at the shop will go dig it out of the rubbish the next day.”
He added that supermarkets also do not sell everything.
“They overbuy, and because they buy more, it puts pressure on the farmer who now has to overproduce. They can only deliver the produce that is perfect and throws away excess produce before it is even sold.”