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Eating out in Peru: a blessing or a food waste nightmare?

A brief description of a week of tracking my waste and identifying that eating out in Peru involves massive portions of food waste.

Photo of Isabella D'Angelo
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In Peru, over 2 million people suffer from food insecurity, from which 500,000 are children under the age of 5. On the other hand, Peruvian industries, restaurants and supermarkets waste more than $150 million a year in perfectly edible food. As civilians, we tend to antagonize companies and blame them for food waste, but when we take a look at our eating habits and the waste we generate every day, our perception might change.

Keeping a food waste diary has helped me to identify my grocery shopping and eating habits, which is the first step to make an improvement. Clearly, discounts and 2 for 1 in supermarkets motivate you to buy in excess. We get a feeling of satisfaction when we feel we are cheating the system. However, most of these sales are for perishable goods. Buying 20 apples for $3 might seem like a bargain, but most of those apples will rot away in your fridge unless you plan on throwing a party or baking an apple pie for 10 people.

Starting my week off with dinner with some friends at a Chinese restaurant and looking at all the left overs made me more conscious. We were 5 people and ordered a menu for 4, of course the portions were designed for overeaters because at least 1/3 of it couldn’t be finished. From Monday, my portions would be small and all left over would be saved for a later occasion.

Monday went quite well. For lunch the only left overs were chicken bones and at dinner, half an avocado could not be finished, but it was saved in the fridge for another meal. However, on Tuesday, Peruvian reality struck. I went for dinner at a traditional Peruvian food restaurant called Panchita. While my date ordered a dish that was larger than a cow’s stomach, I ordered an entrée, attempting to be conscious of the food I was not going to waste.

My attempt was in vain. The dish was so large that even though I hadn’t eaten in 8 hours, I couldn’t finish it. At least 2/3 of the dish was leftover, so I decided to take it home in a doggy bag. The problem with the Peruvian mentality is that if a restaurant doesn’t serve HUGE portions, then it is ripping you off. Peruvian street food is quite good, pretty cheap restaurants serve amazing food. Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to attend an expensive restaurant and pay many soles for a dish you can eat cheaply. This has resulted in some restaurants serving huge portions to satisfy their clients. Unless you plan on sharing a dish or staying at a restaurant for at least 3 hours, some of these dishes cannot be finished.

As I took my leftover dinner home I already began planning how I would eat it during the week and not buy food for those days. Another problem that I identified of eating out is that if the portions are too big, your meal plans for the week will need to be altered. So if you cooked pasta for 3 meals or hamburgers for 4 meals, they might also go to waste if you need to finish your restaurant leftovers. My leftovers from Panchita were included in my dinner on Wednesday and lunch on Friday. 

As my foodwaste diary shows I did not waste that much food this week, I believe it’s because I have been extra conscious of the food I bought and consumed. The real challenge to face if we want to improve our food waste track record is managing portions at restaurants, either sharing dishes or making sure the leftovers will be eaten, because even thought we don't have official data of domestic food waste in Peru yet, I can bet the numbers will be quite high as well. 

I would definitely recommend people to track their food waste in order to become more aware of they do and the slight changes they can make to their habits. Food waste is not just a problem for large industries, restaurants and supermarkets, we are all in the same boat, but making small changes at home can make a big difference.

Conclusions:

  • Discounts at supermarkets are not necessarily a good decision for consumers. Buying a large quantity of perishable goods will most likely results in rotten food in your fridge.
  • Portions in restaurants can be excessively large, it might be better to share dish by dish and testing our limits before over-ordering.
  • Cooking large portions at home for several days might is not the best idea. You might save time cooking but if plans for eating out come up spontaneously then that food can be wasted.
  • The fact that I was tracking my waste made me increasingly more aware of my food waste and eating habits.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Talking about it. Most people have NO IDEA of the large quantities of food being wasted every day. This is terribly shoking in a country with so many people living in poverty. If we talk about the issue and create awareness, more people will become inspired and attempt to make a difference.

Tell us about your work experience:

I work in the sustainability area for the largest supermarket chain in Peru, attempting to reduce food waste is my job.

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Photo of Hernando Zurita

Amazing description of our local reality and mindset #TeamLima #GoPeru