One year ago, a report was released by the United Nations Environment Program that over half of the food produced globally is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain. This is a staggering fact that is substantiated by data from countries all around the world. It seems the food crisis that we are currently facing, blamed largely on decreasing yields due to climate change, depleted soil, lack of adequate water, and so on, is more a crisis of management than production. In fact, there is strong evidence, according to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, that the world could feed it’s entire population, right now, by simply becoming more efficient and reducing the horrific waste that is endemic to the food production industry.
• Up to 25% of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the US is lost between field and table.
• In Australia, food waste makes up half of that country’s landfill.
• In the United Kingdom 30% of all food purchased every year is not eaten.
• Losses in the field between planting and harvesting are around 40% of the potential harvest in developing countries due to pests and pathogens.
• In Africa, 30% of landed fish is lost through discards and spoilage.
• Approximately 30 million metric tons of fish are discarded at sea every year.
• India looses up to 50% of it’s fresh food because of inadequate storage and distribution.
• In South East Asia 37% of rice is lost between field and table. In China, the figure is up to 45%, in Vietnam, it’s estimated to be 80%!
Another factor that accentuates the waste factor in America and Great Britain is the draconian penalties on food suppliers for failing to deliver agreed upon quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. To avoid these crippling penalties, farmers are required to produce a much larger crop than can actually be sold or processed as a form of insurance against poor weather or other factors that might reduce their yield. In some instances, up to 30% of a crop is left to rot. Another 30% of that crop never reaches the supermarket because it is ‘sub standard’ or substantially trimmed for packaging purposes. Of the final produce that reaches our supermarkets, up to 50% is then thrown away.
While it is impossible to calculate the wastage of food from restaurants and all other places where food is served, the final figures of how much food is consumed, compared to how much is produced, must be an astonishingly small percentage. This system of putting incredible pressure on our food producers only so that at least half of what is produced can be thrown away, is clearly unsustainable.
This same study indicates that up to 25% of the world’s current food production capacity may be lost due to “environmental breakdowns” by 2050. Already, cereal yields have stagnated worldwide and fish landings are steadily declining. As the world’s population presses towards 9.5 billion by the year 2050 the demand on the world’s limited resources will reach a breaking point. We cannot ‘produce’ our way out of the next crisis, we must ‘conserve’ our way out.
What can you do?
1. Plan more carefully the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables that your family will consume on a weekly basis and limit your purchases to that amount.
2. When food is on the verge of going bad, cook it and freeze it. This works well with excess veggies that can be made into a soup and frozen, or apples which can be made into applesauce and kept longer.
3. Encourage your family to take smaller portions and go back for more if still hungry rather than filling your plate and throwing half away.
4. Learn to be creative with leftovers. Most meals can be recycled easily the next day into another meal or added to a soup or packed for lunches.
5. Feed your pet table scraps. In most cases, your animal will be healthier and that last piece of something that is too small to save will not be wasted.
6. If you shop at a store with large packs of produce or meat, consider shopping with a friend so you can divide the packages and not have excess food in your frige.
7. At restaurants, bring a Tupperware to take home leftovers or opt to share a meal if the servings are particularly large, or simply eat an appetizer and soup or desert.
8. If you find you’ve made more than your family can eat of something, bring the leftovers in to your office to share. Maybe have a potluck Thursday when leftovers can be pooled for a fun meal.
9. Shop at your local farmers market to help small scale farmers and get your produce days after harvest instead of weeks at the supermarket.