Speaking at his weekly audience in St Peter's Square, Pope Francis denounced the 'culture of waste' that has grown as part of an increasingly consumerist world - warning that throwing away good food is akin to stealing from the poor and hungry.
The pontiff dedicated his weekly audience to the United Nations World Environment Day, using his words to draw attention to the excesses of consumerism and food wastage in the face of global food poverty and, malnutrition.
“This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” said Francis.
“Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food," the Pope said. "Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value."
“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry,” he said.
A global problem
The Pontiff’s speech at the Vatican this week follows a United Nations food agency report finding that one-third of food produced in the world is lost or wasted every year - this food wasted equates to around 1.3bn tonnes of food, the UN said.
Francis warned that such as ' culture of waste' was especially deplorable given the prevalence of hunger in the world.
The UN also revealed that hunger affects around 870 million people - while more than 2 billion people suffer from malnutrition or at least one nutritional deficiency.
The report said simple measures that can be taken by both consumers and the food industry, including better storage and reducing over-sized portions, would sharply reduce the vast amount of food going to waste.
Food waste activists welcomed the Pope's remarks, with Tristram Stuart, founder of activist group Feeding the 5000, part of the EU FUSIONS initiative (Food Use of Social Innovation by Optimizing Waste Prevention Strategies), commenting that when people waste food that is imported, that means local people in food-insecure areas cannot buy it:
"It is taken off their table,” said Stuart.
However, he warned that more focus should also be put on food manufacturers and retailers.
“Retailers shouldn’t deflect attention to the consumer," he said. "Most food waste is in the supply chain. But consumers have the responsibility to ensure the businesses we buy from every day are held to account.”