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  • Christina Theodorakis

Food Waste is Unacceptable



Some of you may have already heard, but the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics had to apologize after a video of workers throwing out food from thousands of bento boxes went viral and caused many people to be outraged at the amount of perfectly-good food being wasted at Olympic venues, including the people at our company.


Obviously, the overordering of food is a dumb problem (#firstworldproblems), but that's what makes it infuriating to me. At a global event like the Olympics, where Japan is trying to bask in the spotlight and show the world how it's recovered from some devastating natural and nuclear disasters, they've really dropped the ball on this one. Kiyoshi Takenaka from Reuters said it best:


The report was particularly embarrassing for organisers as they have long pitched Tokyo 2020 as the sustainable Games and say on their own web page that "Tokyo 2020 aims to minimise the adverse impact of resource waste". That line was included under the headline "Resource Management: 'Zero Wasting'".

Well done, organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.


As a company, we strongly believe in standing behind what you say, especially when it comes to humanitarian issues like hunger in this world of glutton that industrialized countries such as Japan benefit from. But just because a country is wealthy, that doesn't mean that everyone is having an easy time getting their basic human needs met, like having access to a meal, even before this pandemic.


There are plenty of people in Japan alone who have lost livelihoods, which are only exacerbating economic issues along with mental health problems — hence why suicides have been spiking amongst women in Japan over the past 18 months. I'm not claiming that a meal will solve all of the problems that the people in the linked articles are facing, but it could eliminate a very big one. It would also send a very clear message to the people of Japan, who currently feel left behind as the pandemic makes many of their lives harder and the government is focusing most of its manpower on the very-unpopular Tokyo Olympic Games.


I'll get off my soapbox now.


The other part of this story that I wanted to bring to your attention is how this incident is being referred to in the Japanese media: food loss (食品ロス). If you've read our other blogs on English mistakes in Japan, you've probably noticed a pattern of how Japanese people use English words. In a nutshell, they get adopted into Japanese to replace a perfectly-good Japanese word with a similar (and usually more ambiguous) meaning that already exists, but they choose an English word that doesn't match up with how we actually use the English word in context. The meaning gets completely distorted when you translate the Japanese-English word back into English. There is no accidental food loss in this situation — the meals were deliberately thrown away after they had ordered too many of them and subsequently weren't eaten, even though they hadn't expired.


Masa Takaya (incorrectly written in Japanese as "TAKAYA Masa"), one of the spokespeople for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, said during a press conference:


"There has been a surplus of food at various venues. They were not able to consume; that was one reason for the food loss."


It's one thing to be learning English, but when you're supposed to be the person who apologizes to an outraged world for betraying one of your own Olympic promises at an international press conference, you should be able to communicate more clearly and accurately than this. That's not how we use "surplus" — a surplus is what you have if you don't sell enough of something or make more money than you're spending. It's not ordering too much food and then throwing what wasn't eaten away in the trash.


Who wasn't able to consume? Every living thing is able to consume extra food — even animals sitting in a zoo. That's a weak and pathetic excuse and is not addressing the actual reason why they had several thousand extra meals. They literally ordered too much food and didn't adjust it to the number of people accordingly.


"Food loss" is clearly not the right term to use here; the term that the Tokyo Olympic organizers should've used is "food waste" because it's not like the meals fell off the back of a truck. They were knowingly thrown away, and the only reason this even came to light is thanks to an insider who must've been outraged too.


Maybe "food loss" was an accurate term here after all: all the people and animals who could've eaten these meals lost the opportunity to eat perfectly-edible food.

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