Food waste is an often unseen entity in our world. Our experience with it is often tossing leftovers in the trash, and having them promptly removed by a garbage removal company once a week. Out of sight, out of mind. However, while the average consumer’s experience with food waste is fairly muted, the impact in our society is deeply felt. It is estimated that worldwide, a whooping one third of all food produced is never eaten (UNEO and World Resources Institute). In the United States, that amount climbs to close to 40% (EPA). This equates to more than 20 pounds a month per person. There are many reasons for these astronomical levels of waste, but allowing this to persist is environmentally, economically and morally absurd.
There are big opportunities to be had if we can turn these statistics around. Reducing food waste could be the biggest key toward creating a sustainable food future and successfully feeding a growing world population. Typical rhetoric by major food industry players discusses a need to innovate our agricultural practices and produce more. The world’s population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, and with current consumption and waste patterns, it is true we will need to produce 70% more to feed that population. But if we can bring some of that food waste back into the food stream, the story changes. Reconstruction of our current food systems will need to be as sustainable as possible, to support generations to come. It is imperative that any conversations about world hunger start by talking about food waste.
You can reduce food waste by being an informed, aware consumer. “Ugly produce” is a large source of food waste. Produce that does not conform to normal size and appearance guidelines is rejected by most major food suppliers and it never makes the trip from farm to store, resulting in large amounts of fresh produce being diverted into the waste stream. Even when these uglies do make it to the store, consumers typically pass up those options in favor of a perfect specimen. These uglies, overlooked by consumers, are eventually sent to landfills, uneaten. When you visit the grocery store, instead of choosing the most perfect apple, consider taking home a misshapen, slightly off-color option. By purchasing uglies and pressuring your local grocery store to carry these misfits, you can help to reduce food waste. Planning meals, buying carefully and eating it all should be integrated into the way you think about food as a consumer. Never buy more than you can eat.
Food recovery is an innovated solution to prevent food waste by relocating surplus food to those in need. Imagine if all catering companies and restaurants committed to food recovery and took a stand to reduce food waste within their business model. We could very soon see a world where hunger is a thing of the past.
written by Laura Leben