Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Imagine going to the grocery store and walking out with five bags filled to the brim with delicious food. As you enter the parking lot, you set two of the bags onto the ground, walk to your car, and drive off with only three bags remaining. As absurd as this may sound, it isn’t far from reality for most people.
In the United States, forty percent of the food we produce never gets eaten; that’s the equivalent of leaving two of your five bags of groceries in the parking lot. Food waste is a tremendous issue, not just in America, but around the world. Despite being the root of such a huge problem, as a society, we love food. We need it to survive not just on a nutritional level, but, on a cultural one. Human cultures and experiences are fueled by our food.
Our love for food has led to us buying exponentially more of it than we actually need. Ever since the 1960s, the average size of a dinner plate has increased by thirty-six percent, while the amount of food we’re consuming has stayed relatively the same. This increase in perceived consumption has left us producing an excess amount of food that ultimately goes wasted. The volume of food we consume is only sixty percent of the amount we produce - this leaves a whopping 365 million pounds of food to be thrown away each day, globally.
Most food gets wasted during two main points of production, - before sale and after sale. Before sale, while produce is still on a farm, “cosmetically challenged” food, referring to misshapen food that is still good to eat, will end up getting thrown away, and never reach grocery store shelves despite being perfectly good to eat. Once it’s thrown away, it ends up in a landfill where it decomposes and releases harmful fumes. Researchers at UC Berkely conducted a study on Californian agriculture and found that thirty-three percent of produce in California remains unharvested each year.
Every year, the average family spends approximately 1,500 dollars on food they end up throwing away. All this waste is incredibly costly. However, the cost doesn’t end there, food waste is also extremely expensive when it comes to the future of our planet. The environmental impacts of food waste are so severe that if it were a country, food waste would be the worlds third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, right behind the United States and China.
Food waste’s enormous carbon footprint comes partially from all the energy that is wasted during the process of shipment and processing. The other part comes after the food is thrown away when it decomposes and releases potent greenhouse gases such as methane.
Although we produce and buy much more food than we actually need, it is estimated that one in eight Americans still don’t have a steady food supply. The fact that we live in a world where both food waste and hunger are serious issues is laughable. While we throw away almost half of what we buy, millions of people around the world are left without an adequate food supply.
By far, the easiest way to address climate change would be to eliminate or at least minimize food waste. If all the food getting thrown away right now was instead diverted into meals for the hungry, we would be able to feed 1.8 billion people, - solving world hunger. At the same time, we would also be significantly decreasing our global greenhouse gas emissions and slowing down climate change. It’s a win-win situation.
Food waste is one of the many issues at the crossroads between climate change and social justice. We don’t need more food in the world; we just need to use the food we have in a better way. The answer to reducing food waste and curing world hunger may sound simple but, it will require change on every level from consumers and retailers, to farmers and manufacturers, and ultimately policy change. This doesn’t mean it's impossible; it means it will take work from all of us.
Although individual actions won’t entirely solve the problem, they're a great place to start. The next time you go to the grocery store, only buy what you actually think you’re going to eat, if you eat out at a restaurant take your leftovers with you, make sure you don’t overcrowd your refrigerator, so you can’t see what’s in it. The change starts with you.
Ending the food waste crisis and in turn, solving global hunger won’t happen overnight, but, over the course of several months, years, and maybe even decades, it is very achievable. If we want to start putting a stopper on climate change and feed the millions of hungry people around the world, eliminating food waste is the first step. Together we can solve one of our worlds most pressing issues, and begin working towards a healthier future for both our planet and everyone who lives on it.