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Save one-third of food from the bin to build a sustainable future

By Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment

The future health of the global population lies on our plates. The food we choose to eat and the way we produce it is affecting not only our health but also the health of our planet. As we mark Earth Day, celebrated worldwide on April 22, we need to contemplate this thought and the choices we can make to help Earth heal.

The global food system is the single biggest contributor to biodiversity loss, deforestation, drought, freshwater pollution, and the collapse of aquatic wildlife. It’s also the second-biggest generator of climate change-inducing greenhouse gas emissions after the energy industry. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change, including increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, have an adverse effect on crop yields in many countries. It’s a vicious circle, and it’s only up to us to break it.

Moreover, in the UAE, almost 70 percent of adults are overweight, and 28 percent are obese, with childhood obesity rising as per global trends. And it’s no wonder, because as many as 83 percent of adults in our country eat less than five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, and over a third of children drink a can or more of carbonated soft drinks every day.

Alarmed by these statistics, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and the Ministry of Health and Prevention joined forces with Emirates Nature-WWF and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to launch Food for Life. The bold, first-of-its-kind community awareness and engagement campaign addresses the nexus of health, nutrition, and planetary well-being through promoting healthy diets from sustainable food systems.

Through Food for Life, we seek to inspire people with a vision for a future that is healthy and full of life with a wholesome appreciation for food. We want to motivate our citizens and residents to improve not only their lifestyles, health, and nutrition, but also the environment, because they’re all closely interconnected.

We want our people to connect with food – understand where our food comes from, and eat and live mindfully. We want their diets to be safe, diverse, balanced, and nutritious. Wherever possible, we want them to consciously opt for food that is locally produced to minimize its carbon footprint. Because a few small changes adopted by many people can create a domino effect that ultimately results in a huge impact for people and the planet.

An integral part of this holistic approach to nutrition is combating food waste. Food loss and waste poses one of the most serious challenges to our food security. UN statistics show that a staggering one-third of the food produced in the world ends up in the bin. This amounts to 1.3 billion tons of food – equal to the weight of 2,900 Burj Khalifas – or US$1 trillion wasted every year. On average, each person wastes 95 kg of food every year.

This means that one-third of the negative environmental impact of our food systems could easily be avoided. It also means that if we saved this one-third of food from going to waste, we would have four times the food needed to feed the world’s 820 million undernourished people. And in addition to tons of food going to the landfill, where they emit harmful methane gas during their decomposition, precious natural resources, such as land, water, electricity, and gas, are being wasted to produce and prepare food that we don’t even eat.

Sadly, the UAE is one of the largest per capita contributors to food loss and waste. This is partially due to our culture, where hospitality plays a key role. That’s why we must reframe our traditions and bring about behavioral change. In this context, the National Food Loss and Waste Initiative (Ne’ma) aspires to transform mindsets, encourage our community to see food as a blessing, and drive home the importance of adopting sustainable food behaviors.

Ramadan is a time when the food waste issue becomes more prominent than ever. With this in mind, Food for Life has introduced the Save 1/3 initiative that aims to inspire people to reflect on the importance of food in our lives and proactively seek out ways to prevent food waste.

After fasting from sunrise to sunset, the idea of squeezing the whole day’s menu into one meal might seem tempting, but all too often, our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and we end up wasting a large part of the feast we have prepared.

Earth Day provides us with an ideal opportunity to stop and think how we can save that infamous one-third that’s dominating the global food waste statistics – keep the leftovers for suhoor, use them to cook another meal the next day, or donate them to the less fortunate. Or why not plan our meals beforehand so that we don’t create any surplus at all?

By shopping smarter, cooking smarter, and eating smarter, we can all help turn the vicious circle into a virtuous circle, and actively contribute to the transformation of our diets and food systems for a better, healthier tomorrow.

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