Waste Not, Want Not: Solving the Global Food Crisis

pic3Ever find yourself throwing out last week’s groceries, or only finishing half your meal? You are not alone. According to the latest research from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), roughly 1/3 of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes of food or 57% of all the calories harvested each year.

The magnitude and cause of the problem vary by region. In the developing world, per capita food waste equates to 6 – 11 kg/year. Most of this waste occurs at the start of the supply chain due to inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation, and poor infrastructure (e.g. a lack of refrigerating facilities). In the developed world, however, per capita waste equates to a shocking 95 – 115 kg/year. Waste occurs primarily at the end of the supply chain, as supermarkets “often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables…because they do not meet exacting marketing standards”. Consumers also purchase “excessive quantities” of perishable foods and dispose of food early due to “confusing” food labels.

The human impact of such waste is considerable. After all, about 1 billion people globally (or 1 in 7) continue to suffer from malnutrition or starvation. According to the Feeding 5000 Campaign, the vast quantity of wasted food “would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them”.

But “wasting food means losing not only life-supporting nutrition”. It also mean losing “precious resources, including land, water and energy”. In fact, producing wasted food requires 28% of global farmland – approximately the size of Mexico. It uses enough freshwater to meet the domestic needs of 9 billion people (200L each/day). Furthermore, since each calorie of food takes an average of 7 – 10 calories to produce, it consumes a significant portion of the global energy budget. This, in turn, generates 6-10% of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to “to unnecessary global warming”.

To compound the problem, the United Nations projects that the global population will reach 9.5 billion by 2075 (based on mid-range forecasts). This represents over 2 billion more mouths to feed. Furthermore, “substantial changes are anticipated in the wealth, calorific intake, and dietary preferences of people in developing countries”. Hence, the demand for food—particularly resource intensive food like meat—is expected to increase.

Fortunately, awareness of global food waste is also growing and key players are starting to act. The United Nations, for example, has launched the Think.Eat.Save program, which works to galvanize global action and exchange ideas. Farmers are donating “edible but imperfect-looking” crops to local food charities, such as City Harvest. Food processors are finding innovative ways to salvage previously rejected foods, such as “making baby carrots out of carrots too bent to meet retail standards”. And grocery stores like Waitrose and Sainsbury are cutting the prices of expiring goods, donating leftovers to charities, and sending remaining food waste to bio-plants for electricity generation.

Such efforts offer real hope of solving the global food problem. In fact, the United Nations reports that “cutting the rate of food loss and waste in half by 2050 would close 20% of the (expected) food gap.”

To learn more about the food waste problem, please click here. To help reduce hunger, please donate to one of our partner food banks: Friends of Saint Joseph’s Food Pantry, Operation: Sack Lunch, the Oregon Food Bank, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

Flickr photo credit: Kabsic Park