Journal article Open Access

Recycling, recovering and preventing "food waste": competing solutions for food systems sustainability in the United States and France

Mourad, Marie

In recent years, a wide range of organizations in developed countries have embarked on efforts to address the economic, environmental and social impacts of "food waste." Based on more than 120 interviews and complementary observations in the United States and France, this paper examines how recent mobilizations impact the way surplus food is actually managed with respect to sustainable production and consumption (SPC). The analysis of multiple stakeholders' interests and motives complements a growing literature on food waste prevention and management focused on technical evaluations of "solutions." Recent frameworks on food surplus and waste establish one hierarchy of preferable categories of solutions: first, prevention (reducing surplus at the source), then recovery (reusing for human consumption) and finally recycling (feeding animals, creating energy or compost). Fieldwork results show that actors with different interests in food commodity chains actually develop competing solutions, both within and between three hierarchies based on environmental, social and economic goals. In the long term, the solutions they promote may therefore not achieve "win-win-win" benefits for all actors and at all scales. Drawing on a distinction between "weak" and "strong" sustainability, this paper argues that "strong" prevention based on holistic changes in the food system is the most sustainable solution to food surplus and waste. It suggests that academics focus on strong food surplus prevention, but also that advocates encourage government and corporate actors to differentiate between weak and strong actions to diffuse strong sustainability across organizations and countries.
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