Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle project aimed at providing information and raising awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students coming from different countries, with the aim of understanding how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which, every year, offers internships to students from all around the world creating a unique multicultural environment.
Today we speak with Eren from Turkey!
“People trust that the youth, the young generation will do something”
Hello, Eren! Thank you for participating in this interview series “Food Waste Around the World”. To start, could you tell me where you are from and a bit about yourself?
My name is Eren. I was born in Istanbul, Turkey, but I have lived in many countries. Since I moved around a lot I have not lived in Istanbul for much of my life, but I have been living there for the last two years. Sometimes I feel like a new resident of a foreign city.
Nice! What is the food waste situation in Turkey?
I did some research, but I found that different websites gave different statistics. Some of them made no sense to me, while others looked like they might not be accurate; I don't really trust the government. One of the sources stated that 26,000,000 tons of food is wasted every year. That is too much. Turkey wastes more food than it exports to other countries. It is not only a major environmental problem but a major economic problem for the country.
Can you see any differences, in terms of food waste, between Turkey and the Netherlands?
I was in the Netherlands for a week, now I am back in Turkey. In general, the Netherlands is a very clean country. I think the Dutch people are much more aware of environmental problems than people in Turkey. So, I guess the food waste situation is much better there. When you look at Turkey, there is a traditional Turkish breakfast that you can find in any city, hotel or restaurant. People fill the table with the so-called serpme kahvalti (spread). You can do it at home, and then you know how much to eat and you use it accordingly. If, however, you go to a breakfast place before you go to school or work, the serving sizes are far too big, and all the surplus food is wasted. This type of breakfast is a huge contributor to food waste. It is popular in hotels too; it is impossible to finish what they serve. They only feed your eyes. The same goes for the open buffet, especially in hotels. There are so many summer resorts in Turkey, and all of these hotels waste huge amounts of food.
Who is driving the attention, or raising awareness, on the food waste issue in your country? Is it the government, or are NGOs and small communities the key actors?
I do not think the government is doing anything about it right now, maybe they will in the future. I believe that this issue will never be a priority for the current administration because it is so complicated. They don’t really acknowledge environmental problems, so they will never get to food waste. There are, however, some NGOs - some organizations that have been set up. To understand their motivation I will first talk a little about Turkish culture. Food waste in Turkey is generally frowned upon. People, including me, do not like wasting food. That is how we grew up. I think people have an ethical code about food, but it does not help. Even if they do not want to waste food, no one will take the leftover food home with them when people go to restaurants, whereas this is common in many European countries, America or elsewhere. They eat at a restaurant or a cafe and when they are full they say "Okay, I do not want any more", and they do not take leftovers. That is a problem. I found an organization called Gida Dostu Dernegi. This organization is taking a few steps to tackle food waste. I also found out that there is a competition going on right now where students are developing a project to deal with food waste. The younger generation cares about food waste and the environment in Turkey.
People trust the youth, the young generation will do something.
Are you aware of any specific initiatives that address food waste?
Orange Flag Turkey has some statistics on their website that I think are true. Their mission is to reduce food waste within the tourism industry by working with companies to develop projects aiming to reduce food waste. They research and implement various ways to reuse wasted food, such as turning food into fertilizer. There are hungry people both in Turkey and around the world, and some people are aware of this problem. They also try to train the sales kitchen and the service staff. In addition, employees may need to be educated about food waste and its impact on the environment and the world. I think the biggest problem in Turkey is that people don't care and are uninformed about the topic. Politics is already very complicated: people have a lot of problems, the economy is bad, so food waste is not a priority, but it is important to talk about it right away. The Orange Flag organization also has an initiative where they give orange flags to companies, such as restaurants, that do not waste food. This organization aims to make the Orange Flag system internationally recognized.
Do you think that the government will do more in the future? Do you think that food waste is a priority on their agenda?
It might be a priority because there is so much food waste in Turkey, particularly in relation to the breakfast culture. People, in general, always want more. Unlike in European countries where people just consume the amount they need. Here, at some restaurants, they fill your table before you tell them anything, and that's how the food gets wasted. I think the government is aware of this issue, but at the moment it is the last thing they care about. Since the current government wants to retain power, and they will work to get votes, and environmental issues are not really something that the majority of the country cares about right now, especially the potential voters of the current regime. So, I do not think it will be a priority unless the regime changes. If they find a way to make money out of this it has the potential to be very beneficial to the economy. The government would, therefore, do it because they are very money hungry.
I see. What do you think would be the next step to beat or fight this issue? Should a bottom-up approach be implemented, where the population is the key actor or a top-down initiative from the government?
That is a nice question. I think it has to be a top-down approach. The government needs to make some laws that work. The big businesses in Turkey like hotels and restaurants, as well as the majority of the population, don't care unless the government makes some laws. I'm not sure what the laws would be, but they can put a limit on wasting food. At present, the government does not check and inform the restaurants about how much food they are wasting. This means that Turkey needs a top-down approach.
Perfect. Okay, that would be it. Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Ilaha Aliyeva
Interviewed: Eren Suzer
Editor: Ilaha Aliyeva
Organizations mentioned in the interview: http://www.turuncubayrak.org/