The Food Waste Imbalance

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

We’ve all heard the statistic: Nine billion people living on the planet by 2050. And everyone in the business of “food” is aware of the challenge ahead: Produce more food to feed all of them, using fewer resources.

It’s a huge task that we, along with many others, are working diligently to address.

But before we focus on producing more for the future, we need to take a hard look at wasting less today. Food waste imbalance is a serious global issue. Consider that 1 billion of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night. Yet at the same time, one-third of the food produced is thrown away. Therein lies the imbalance: while so many don’t know where their next meal will come from, North Americans alone throw away 250 pounds of food per person every year.

Food waste isn’t all due to consumers. According to Kai Robertson of Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) who spoke at the 2012 Ag Issues Forum, some estimate that as much as half of all the food grown globally may be lost or wasted before it even reaches the consumer, due to losses in the field, weather, storage, transportation and/or processing.

The good news is that if we cut the current amount of food waste in half by 2050, the projected amount of food required to feed 9 billion people could be reduced by as much as 25 percent. People around the world are increasingly aware of the food waste issue. And they are taking action to make better use of the high-quality food farmers already are producing.

Articles like this one bring the issue of food waste to light and talk about how changing habits in the grocery store and the consumer’s home can cut down on the amount of food reaching the trash can. Food waste experts recommend simple steps like buying smaller amounts of high-quality food and purchasing items off the menu with smaller portions.

Another approach: Find new ways to produce food that create little to no waste. An example of this is a new project in Chicago that is transforming an old meat-packing plant into a sustainable farm. “The Plant” will support production of various types of food and beverages -- from farm-raised tilapia to vegetables, tea and beer—while generating net-zero waste and energy. The concept works because each species was selected so that waste from one becomes food for another.

As with so many other challenges, there is no one silver bullet that will eliminate the incredible amount of waste present in our food system today. But one thing is certain; discussions around food waste and other food system inefficiencies, such as transportation and access to food, will become more important and essential as we consider how we’re going to address the issue of feeding a hungry and growing population with fewer resources.



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