France Fights Food Waste

The French take their food seriously. And now we know that they don’t look too kindly on it being wasted.

In mid-April, a government-appointed committee released a proposal to tackle food waste in France (PDF in French). The Fight Against Food Waste (Lutte Contre Le Gaspillage Alimentaire – #GaspillageAlimentaire) suggests 36 ways to do just that, and Parliament will likely debate each one separately with the intention of distilling those ideas into a national policy on food waste. If that happens, it will be historic.

“It’s the first proposition for a comprehensive national policy on food waste that brings together a lot of different potential measures to reduce food waste throughout the whole food chain,” said Marie Mourad, a PhD student at Sciences Po in Paris writing her dissertation on initiatives around food waste.

MP Guillaume Garot, who isn’t afraid of mixing it up at Disco Soupe events, led the committee in proposing a variety of measures. One of their most powerful ideas is the suggested ban on supermarkets throwing away food, which comes after a related 200,000-signature petition. That idea, together with mandatory donations to charities that request the food and extended tax deductions for donations could change the excess food equation in retail. With the inedible excess, one far-reaching policy would be legislating a food waste hierarchy of feeding animals, creating energy and then composting.

There may not be anything available for dumpster divers if all of the above policies happen, but they would have legal protections thanks to a proposal that would essentially make dumpster diving legal. Following a recent, high-profile case in France, this idea would offer “clemency” to dumpster divers under a proposed “recovering is not stealing” ordinance.

Meanwhile, building on Intermarché’s popular Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign, the report also pushes for more markets for nontraditional produce. And at the farm level, there are several proposals to promote and sustain the gleaning of unharvested crops.

The report suggests adapting the size of restaurant portions to consumers’ needs and encouraging a pay-by-weight option, two ideas that seem as un-French as they are interesting. Meanwhile, the committee seeks better data on how much food is wasted, more public education on the issue and even a public agency to fight food waste, a la Britain’s WRAP to potentially do both. Only time will tell what ideas gain traction, though. Mourad expects the supermarket food waste ban and dumpster diving protections to be among the least controversial.

The annual cost of food waste in France, according to the report, is as much as €20 Billion annually and €400 for the average family. In that context and with a strong tradition of gleaning—and celebrating it in art and film—France is exhibiting an appetite for curbing food waste. To which, I say, ‘Bon appétit!’

How much change is French culture willing to stomach? The best indicator may come from an unlikely source—a proposal to mainstream “le doggy-bag.” As in most of Europe, taking leftovers home from restaurants tends to be viewed as a bit…gauche. The practice faces a “cultural obstacle,” Garot told the press, but 75 percent of those polled recently said they’d like to take food home from restaurants. In that changed milieu, the main question may be whether to use the French “sac-à-emporter” (literally, ‘to-go bag’) or a hybrid term like “le doggy-bag” or “le gourmet bag.”

While Americans are miles ahead in loving restaurant leftovers—or at least taking them home—US policy makers would do well to emulate both the ideas and ‘esprit’ of this new French food waste movement. And then, on both sides of the Atlantic, we may soon be bonding over the shared values of “Liberté, Egalité, le Doggy.”

This piece is cross-posted on Food Tank. Visit those fine folks for all of your sustainable food needs.

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