People are surprised to find out that poverty exists in Israel. With the country having such a thriving economy and being the ‘start-up nation’ it is astonishing to learn that 20 percent of Israel’s population lives below the poverty line. Even more startling is the fact a large percentage of these people living with food insecurity, not knowing from where their next meal is coming, are working poor; families who have two breadwinners, earning two salaries but still being unable to feed their children.
Yet despite the high percentage of the population living with food insecurity in Israel, 35 percent of all food produced in Israel goes to waste while half of it could be salvaged. Last year, food loss in Israel amounted to 2.5 million tonnes with a market value of 19.7 billion shekels (£4.2bn) (source: Leket Israel Food Waste and Rescue Report 2019).
The issue of food rescue is not unique to Israel. City Harvest, the London-based food bank, claims food from more than 13 million meals is wasted by businesses every month, which is more than enough to supply cooked meals to the 9.2m people living with food insecurity. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development data that examines the extent of poverty after taxes and allocations, Israel has the second highest poverty rate, while the UK is at number 12.
In Israel, steps have been taken to reduce food waste and encourage food rescue. Last October, the Food Donation Act was enacted into law thanks to cooperation between several Members of Knesset and supported and initiated by Leket Israel. Its goal is to encourage the rescue of surplus food and to protect the donor along the entire food chain from legal liability, providing they comply with the law’s provisions.
In 2017, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published a report on food waste in England and made several recommendations including that the government adopt a national strategy to ensure the collection of wasted food throughout the UK. The government requires businesses above a certain size to publicly report their food waste and to separate food in a gradual process.
One of the basic ethical principles of Judaism is the concept of bal tashchit, the prevention of senseless damage or waste. This idea is especially powerful when considering the amount of food that goes to waste every year around the world, specifically in the UK and Israel. This quality nutritious food could be donated to people who need it most.
Rescuing surplus food is an immediate and attainable solution to addressing this growing crisis, as it is an existing alternative to food production. Not only can food rescue reduce the gap in food insecurity while saving about 72 percent of its costs, it also has social, economic and environmental benefits. These economic advantages are created when excess food, whose value is zero for the producer, is transformed into a product of economic and nutritional value when donated to weaker populations. Given that the cost of food production has increased and so has its market price, the value of its production will be even higher and so will its value for the needy.
Food rescue is a winning formula that enables the production of food without the substantial use of resources, while also contributing positively to the economy.
What can people in the UK do to help fight food waste?
1. Join forces with other UK supporters of Leket Israel and arrange events to benefit it, or volunteer with Leket in Israel. Leket Israel depends on the generosity of donors. leket.org/en
2. Volunteer with City Harvest; food that would otherwise go to waste will go to feed the hungry.
- Joseph Gitler, Founder & Chairman, Leket Israel