Millions more meals can reach those who need them.
In 2016, France banned supermarkets from destroying or discarding unsold food products, requiring them to donate instead to food banks or local charities.
The law was written by Parliamentarian and former food industry minister Guillaume Garot, who believes that food waste is a national health and safety issue, akin to wearing a seatbelt. The campaign itself was the product of a grassroots movement by anti-poverty and food waste activists which eventually became a petition, lead by local councillor Arash Derambarsh.
Now that food waste has been outlawed in French supermarkets, Derambarsh has set his sights on European and ultimately global policy revisions around the issue. “Food is the basis of life, it is an elementary factor in our existence,” he told the Guardian.
While Derambarsh became a councillor to help people, he reports being called “naive and idealistic” because of the policy he hoped to implement surrounding food waste. “Perhaps it is naive to be concerned about other human beings, but I know what it is like to be hungry,” he said.
“When I was a law student living on about €400 a month after I’d paid my rent, I used to have one proper meal a day around 5pm. I’d eat pasta, or potatoes, but it’s hard to study or work if you are hungry and always thinking about where the next meal will come from.”
Now, grocery store managers in France with a 400 sq meter or larger footprint must sign contracts with local charities and food banks promising their edible expired items, or face a €3,750 ($4,500) fine per infringement.
According to Jacques Bailey, head of Banques Alimentaires, a network of french food banks, 5,000 charities rely on food banks, who in turn, receive almost half their donations from grocery stores. Under the law, these food banks are receiving larger amounts of better quality food products, enabling them to better reach the the people they serve. According to Bailey, an increase as small as 15% in donations from supermarkets will result in 10 million more meals served every year.
And yet, required donations are not the only way that France is fighting food waste. In 2014, Intermarche, one of the country’s supermarkets began selling produce that was deemed too “ugly” to sell at other markets. These “ugly” or misshapen produce are perfectly safe to eat, but have blemishes make them less marketable to consumers, resulting in their disposal before even seeing the grocery store isles. This initiative is particularly effective, as fresh fruits and vegetables are the most difficult items for charities and food banks to come by, and are necessary to a healthy diet. Intermarche’s initiative reached 13 million people after only one month of being implemented.
About a third of food produced is wasted worldwide. France has narrowed the food it wastes to 66 pounds per person every year. In comparison, Americans waste 200 billion pounds of food per year - 40% of all food produced in the country. The waste problem in America is partly due to the lack of regulation surrounding expiration dates, which are often selected at random and do not always reflect when items are safe to consume.
The rest of the world has a lot to learn from France’s policy. NPR writes that communities and governments worldwide are now reaching out to Garot, hoping for information that would help them reproduce France’s law in their own countries. Ultimately this change needs to be made, because, as Garot emphasized, supermarkets are not just businesses, they are places where humanity must be respected.
EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her.