A monumental problem we face is a growing population. With a growing population comes questions of how will everyone be fed? At the root of the problem, it is not merely a production problem, rather, it is a distribution problem. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, one third of the food produced is wasted per year. That equates to 1.3 billion tonnes of waste! It costs industrialized countries $680 billion and developing countries $310 billion annually.
Knowing the excessive cost food waste provides, where does it come from? When we look at poorer countries we see a common theme…storage. In warm, humid climates it is hard to preserve food and with it comes rodents, parasites, and fungus. With a lack of refrigeration, means of transportation, and unsanitary markets, poorer countries lose food before it reaches the mouths who need it. Packaging practices are unlike those in countries like the US. There is no vacuum seal, flash freezing, or perfectly stacked crates. People make due with what they have like wicker baskets and nets. Though not all of this food is thrown away, it is wasted before it gets to the consumer.
In industrialized countries there are problems late in the supply chain. The first problem is the aesthetic appearance of the food. Do you ever wonder what happens to the rest of a ‘baby carrot?’ If carrots are blemished, bent at the incorrect angle or are not bright enough they are thrown away or turned into our ‘baby carrots.’ It is estimated that 30% of all carrots produced are discarded due to their physical appearance. Industrialized countries consume processed food in a much higher amount that developing nations. This creates waste from cutting food like potatoes for french fries, trimming scraps for perfectly proportioned meals, and byproducts of cooking or extracting foods.
A major cause of retail waste comes from poor dating, too hot or cold holding temperatures, and lack of staff to rotate foods. There is a common misconception that the best before date is the date to toss an item. It is actually indicating the peak quality the manufactures feels the food is at. After that date they cannot insure the quality is at their standards but by no means states that the food is trash. High income countries see food as a commodity rather than an energy source. Massive amounts of money are spent on bulk products, specialty food, and excess food for a home. Household waste becomes a huge factor as families over buy food, fail to prepare the food to store it longer, and toss food they do not like or find pleasing.
If one fourth of the food wasted was saved, it could feed 870 million hungry people in the world! With 40% of the world’s people working in agriculture and employing the highest percentage of jobs worldwide, you would think that there would be immediate changes made so these people benefit from their trade. Though many workers in developing countries see their food rot before them, the 1% of farmers in the US rarely see the food they make go to market. so what can be done?
In low income countries, there needs to be education and technologies made available to preserve food. Improvements and investments in marketing facilities can boost outcomes and benefit a growing population. In high income countries, awareness is key. With buying options in the hands of the consumer, it is crucial the consumer knows what is happening to their food supply if they are not growing it themselves. Improvements in purchase and consumption planning can reduce waste in homes and at stores.
Waste is not only seen in the food produced. It spans across the use of resources to grow, ship, and store the food, energy used to grow the food and the capital put forth to invest in the food. Between all these modern issues we are creating global warming and climate change through our food system.
To me it seems like an oxymoron. Food is a staple, organic, basic need that we all have but yet we throw so much of it away. If there was care and appreciation for each hand that touched the food, the energy from the sun, and the nutrients used to put forth a life giving product, there would be no waste. Going forward, make it a priority to know where your food comes from and how much energy it took for it to get to you. The next time you see an ‘ugly’ potato in the grocery store, keep in mind you may be the only person willing to buy it before it is thrown away.