Can food waste tell us anything about Cape Town? Exploring Observatory and Bo-Kaap
Michelle Olivero
20 August 2015
“What are the people of Cape Town eating? ...can food waste in their neighborhoods give us a broader narrative?”

Urbanization and food consumption of Capetonians is not static but constantly evolving. This project proposes to explore food consumption patterns of Cape Town through the lens of its waste. 

Rapidly-urbanizing developing countries are undergoing a major nutrition transition. Food production areas in and around Cape Town are jeopardised by urban development, resulting in food having to be “imported” from production areas substantially further away from the city (Visser, 2015). The industrial food processing and supply system has replaced traditionally nutritious foods with nutritionally inferior, energy-dense but cheaper foods and drink. In addition to being nutritionally poor, these cheaper foods typically comprise highly refined, low fibre cereals, fats and sugar (Crush; Frayne; McLachlan, 2011).  Moreover, in South Africa, the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) industry is undergoing major restructuring which is transforming the food and agricultural supply chain, consumption patterns of the population, and food industry competition. The transformations in South Africa’s QSR industry can be attributed to the forces of globalization, urbanization, growing segment of middle-class, and increased labor force participation by women (Maumbe). These new industries and products also imply an important increase on packaging and, indeed, waste.
There are a number of problems associated with food waste, including loss of a potentially valuable food source or resource for use in other processes, wasted resources and emissions in the food supply chain, and problems associated with the disposal of organic waste to landfills. For household food waste in South Africa, the costs [are] associated with loss of a potentially valuable food source, and with disposal of organic waste to landfill. In total, the costs to society associated with these two food-waste related problems are estimated at approximately R21.7 billion per annum, or 0.82% of annual South African GDP (Nahman, 2012). Unfortunately, little information is available on food waste as a proportion of the overall household waste stream. Nevertheless, a recent waste categorisation study in the City of Cape Town, using 25 waste categories, found that food waste makes up 12.5% of residential waste collected by the municipality (Gibb Engineering and Science, 2008).
So, what does food waste say about Cape Town?  I set off on a personal journey to explore two different neighborhoods, Observatory (Obs) and Bo-Kaap. Particularly, I was interested in finding food waste that was discarded and left on the streets.  As I began to walk around these areas, I pondered the following: what are the people of Cape Town eating?  And, how is food waste in these neighborhoods telling a broader narrative?  How do people in Observatory as well as Bo-Kaap access food?  What are the demographics of the residents, and does it affect their food waste?  Does one of the areas have more food waste than another? How about food prices?  Do they vary, or are they the same? 
The hope with this project is to bring forth the potential to further discover that which is often disregarded and undervalued: food waste. The methodology that I used involved data collection through photography and specifically, photographing and classifying every food waste item that I found in Observatory and Bo-Kaap. As I continued to walk around the neighborhoods, I began to find consistencies between the food groups, which I divided into the following categories: produce, processed and/or packaged food, fast-food, meat, and takeaway/take-out from restaurants.  Moreover, I documented the location and time that the food waste item was found.  Lastly, I searched for the price of the item in that particular neighborhood.  In Observatory, I found the prices in the Kwikspar supermarket, which is a large retailer that monopolizes the central area of the neighborhood. In Bo-Kaap, I found the pricing from two small, local food stores: Rose Corner Cafe and Raaj Mini Market, as there is no supermarket in the area. 
These maps display data from both Observatory and Bo-Kaap, taking into account the population size, income, education, and employment of the residents. In general terms, some findings show a preliminary comparative analysis that might be replicated in other neighborhoods and in a larger scale. Non-processed food waste, like produce and meat, was 10 percent larger in Bo-Kaap than in Observatory, where Obs had a larger consumption of takeaway, processed and/or packaged, and fast food items. Among processed food, Obs presented a higher number of food waste items such cupcakes and international brands, which might be related to the demographics of the neighborhood that hosts a large amount of international residents.  Still, in both neighborhoods, produce food consumption is highly seasonal, with a larger amount of oranges, apples and bananas, over other fruits such as guava and granadilla. Regarding pricing, the small retailers in Bo-Kaap generally price their items at a higher cost with few variations.  For instance, purchasing an orange in Obs could cost between R1-R2, whereas in Bo-Kaap, the cost is R2.50, which is a 25%-150% increase.  
Rapid Urbanization and the Nutrition Transition in Southern Africa, Urban Food Security Series No. 7. (Crush, Jonathan; Frayne, Bruce, and McLachlan, Milla; 2011),
Smart Living Handbook: Making Sustainable Living a Reality in Cape Town Homes (City of Cape Town; 2011);
The Future of South Africa’s Food System: What is research telling us? (Pereira, Laura; 2014),
The Quick Service Restaurant Industry in South Africa: Market Structure, Competitive Strategies, and Research Directions (Maumbe, Blessing)
The Food Systems and Food Security Study for the City of Cape Town (Visser, Stanley; 2015).  

Working for Gareth Haysom, researcher on food and sustainability at the African Centre for Cities during my time in Cape Town has been beneficial to my research.

By Michelle Olivero | Illustration by Laura Wainer

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