Goodbye 'nose to tail' eating! As Africans get richer, expect to see more food wasted

By 2030, with the global middle class even more expanded, consumer food waste could cost $600bn a year, unless actions are taken to reduce waste

FOR Kenya’s Kikuyu community, the slaughter of a goat, on special occasions, can be a lengthy process because not a single bit of the animal is left unused. 

The blood is drained and salted - later to be transformed into a type of blood sausage along with fatty meats and some of the offal; the head and hooves are boiled for hours to make a soup - also thrown in are the back and neck of the animal, the main flesh, ribs and legs of the animal are roasted. Even the skin is put to use, removed to eventually be used as a door mat, drum cover or carpet.

Using the whole animal is nothing surprising in many African countries where meat is a luxury for many and little is wasted. In many developed countries however, this type of nose to tail eating has become a bit of a trend where after years of sticking to choice cuts of meats - like meaty steaks and chops - people are starting to think differently about the way they eat, using more of the animal. 

Nose to tail eating

The trend started at about the time that a recipe book called “Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking in England” by Chef Fergus Henderson came out in 1999. The “nose-to-tail” cooking encouraged the use of offal - internal organs and entrails - and the book became an international sensation because of either a growing conscience not to waste and because of a movement going back to preserving local and traditional cuisines. 

This type of thinking is the basis of the international “Slow Food” movement which was founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. A movement against food waste. 

Food waste is a serious problem; more than a quarter of the world’s fresh water and a fifth of its farmland are used to produce food that is never eaten. 

There are two key issues that contribute to this; firstly, post-harvest losses where food is lost between harvest to market due to inefficiencies, inappropriate harvest techniques, inappropriate handling, inadequate storage facilities and loss due to poor roads. 

The second key issue affecting food waste is consumer-driven - around consumer preferences, use by dates, aesthetic standards - which all cause a huge amount of dumping of good food which is good. This used to be something that was a “developed world” issue, but there is growing consciousness about eating habits in those parts of the world, seen in the growing “dumpster diving” or anti-consumerist “Freegan” movement where people will sift through waste to find food items that have been discarded but still good and also by the “nose to tail” movement. 

Today, and in the near future, this consumer-driven food waste, particularly household food waste, is an increasing concern for Africa because of the growing middle class and changing consumer habits. 

New habits

A study from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and the Getulio Vargas Foundation, shows that the top causes of food waste in homes include buying too much, preparing in abundance, unwillingness to consume leftovers, and improper food storage. The study - whose case is more fitting to the African context - looked at lower-middle class households in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and found that the practice that resulted in the most food waste was simply buying too much food, followed by preparing food in abundance.

Leaving foods on dishes after meals or not saving leftovers, and decaying of prepared foods after long or inappropriate storage were also significant factors that resulted in disposal of foods. 

Furthermore, the researchers found that strategies that are intended to save money such as buying in bulk and shopping monthly (rather than more frequently), and cooking from scratch, actually contributed to the generation of food waste and ultimately did not result in savings.

If Africa’s new middle classes adopt different diets and habits, they would be contributing to an additional 280 million tonnes of food waste per year that could be generated. This was already expected in predictions which have it that by 2030, when the global middle class expands, consumer food waste is currently predicted to cost $600 billion a year, unless actions are taken to reduce it. 

It also has severe environmental implications. Most food waste is thrown away in landfills, where it decomposes and emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Globally, it creates 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, about 7% of the total emissions. 

There are solutions however that Africa’s policymakers can start looking into - predominantly around consumer thinking which are taking place in the developed world - for example, in a UK a six-month Love Food Hate Waste campaign in West London resulted in changes in behaviour and reductions in food waste (ca 15% for total household food waste). The campaign cost $270,000 and the boroughs were estimated to have saved $2.1 million in avoided disposal costs.

But these solutions need to be re-jigged and adapted to the African context where consumer habits will be different and food waste occurs for different reasons. 

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