By Yuka Sugiura
We are living in the age of plenty. We have so many options for food that we easily throw it away. About a third of the food produced in the world is lost or wasted every year. On the other hand, one in every nine people in the world does not have access to enough food and is suffering from hunger. In Japan, 6.34 million tons of food is wasted every year and this is 1.7 times as much food as the global food aid that is given to hungry people.
One of the causes of food waste is oversupply at retail stores. In Japan, this happens all the time but it gets even more serious in the times of seasonal events. An example of such events is “setsubun” on the first day of February when people eat a special kind of sushi called eho-maki to wish for fortune. Supermarkets and convenience stores sell much more eho-maki than is actually consumed and the surplus gets disposed of. The picture of tons of leftover eho-maki has become a kind of symbol of food waste problem. Haruka Kishimoto, an undergraduate student studying agriculture, could not overlook this reality. She raised her voice and started a campaign called “Stop! Eho Loss”.
Haruka got interested in food problems because she thought that is the key to reduce poverty in developing countries. But as she learned more about the issue, she has come to think that the transformation of the entire consumption system is essential. But she did not know what to start with. At that time, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries issued a recommendation telling people to supply the amount of eho-maki that matches the demand. To this announcement, consumers were saying that retails stores should be responsible, whereas employees at retail stores were saying that it would not be achieved without the cooperation of consumers. Seeing this, Haruka thought it necessary to connect both with each other. That is why she decided to launch the campaign “Stop! Eho Loss”.
In the campaign, Haruka collected voices of consumers about food waste via the internet to convey them to grocery stores. Another intention she had was having consumers think about food waste problems through writing a comment. She created a special website for the campaign and posted it on SNS. The movement caught the eyes of food waste activist and went viral. It was also covered by major Japanese newspapers. In total, 630 comments on food waste problems were received. She compiled and communicated them to associations of retail companies.
The achievement of the campaign was much more than what Haruka initially expected. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and The Consumer Affairs Agency of Japan contacted her regarding the movement. Haruka got a chance to bring the comments from consumers and directly hand them to both of the ministries. Taking advantage of this, she asked The Consumer Affairs Agency to create a section on its website to share ideas on how to reduce food waste. It was actually implemented and the campaign “Stop! Eho Loss” is introduced on the website. Now other various efforts to tackle food waste problems are also featured in this section.
From now, Haruka hopes to put more effort into agricultural aspects. After her activities on food waste, she has grown to consider that the essence of food problems lies in the detachment between production and consumption. She thinks that people easily throw away food because they forget that food is the blessing of nature and we are supported by many small lives. One of Haruka’s ideas for the next action is providing people with the experience of learning how food is produced in agricultural fields.
Haruka’s campaign is a great example of how a small inspiration could eventually have a great impact on society. For advice to young people who want to do something but do not know what to start with, she says, “Please go to the site and see what is happening with your eyes. And listen to what your heart is saying and just follow it. If you keep experiencing and feeling, you will find out what your mission is.”