‘We Can’t Be Resilient If We’re Not Sustainable’: Andrew Zimmern Discusses Food Waste

Andrew Zimmern in the kitchen © Courtesy of WFP

By Allie Murray

When chef Andrew Zimmern joined forces with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) as a goodwill ambassador, it was to educate people not only on the hunger crisis that is prevalent worldwide but the rising crisis of food waste.

In an interview with Global Heroes, Zimmern explained that 14 percent of food produced worldwide is lost between harvest and retail before people can even get their hands on it. And more shockingly, food that is lost and wasted accounts for 38 percent of the total energy usage in our global food system.

“Food loss and food waste undermine the very sustainability of our food system as a whole, and that’s the big number I want everybody to get,” Zimmern shared. “Almost 40 percent of total energy usage in the global food system—that number is shocking.”

WFP’s goal is a world with zero hunger—and part of achieving that goal is preventing food loss. WFP does this by helping smallholder farmers through the provision of new technologies for storage and transportation that prevent crops from spoiling prematurely and by connecting them with markets. They also provide family farmers with air-tight storage containers that cut their food loss from 40 to two percent. These bins allow farmers to store and save food from infestations or destruction by insects, rodents, mold, and moisture.

Zimmern posed the question: How can we have a sustainable food system without addressing waste?

© Courtesy of WFP

“Our food systems as a whole cannot be resilient, they cannot withstand the slings and arrows of the modern 21st century world with the climate crisis, and conflict and wars if they’re not sustainable,” he urged. “We can’t be resilient if we’re not sustainable.”

To address food waste, Zimmern suggested global actions, local actions, and everything in between to maximize the food we produce. Similarly, he noted the importance of education for society as a whole to understand the crisis at hand.

“I think we can do a much better job as NGOs and governments working with farmers and producers to improve storage methods, find systems for redistributing foods—that’s going to take some work,” he said.

Things that Zimmern has added into his own kitchen that have helped him to lessen the amount of waste he is producing is to minimize the space in your fridge and keep what he calls a “waste journal” to log what food items you are throwing away. He suggested removing a drawer or shelf from your refrigerator as an experiment—with less space available in the fridge, consumers are less likely to over-purchase, which leads to food waste.

Throughout his career, Zimmern has traveled around the world and witnessed the food waste and hunger prevalent in North America and worldwide. Despite that, he remembers his first encounter with hunger to be in his own home.

He explained that when his son was in fourth grade, he invited two friends to dinner, “As everyone was helping themselves to food, one of his friends was inhaling the food, and it wasn’t because he had been running around and was hungrier.

“I just came face-to-face with a young kid, a friend of my son’s, right in my own home, and I knew right away why he was eating so much and so quickly,” he continued. “He may not have eaten lunch that day, or he may not have had the ability to buy it. So dinner at someone else’s house was an opportunity to put more calories into his system. It was extremely powerful.”

Zimmern continues to be an advocate for food justice through his extensive non-profit work, his partnership with WFP, his production company Intuitive Content and their television programs such as “What’s Eating America,” Magnolia Network’s “Family Dinner,” and Outdoor Channel’s “Wild Game Kitchen.” Look for “Hope In The Water” a four-part natural history documentary in late 2023, telling the stories of the people working at the intersection of feeding a hungry planet while protecting our waters.

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