I talk about food a lot. However, there’s an underbelly, a darkside to what we consume daily that ought to consume our minds and consciences until it is solved. There is an ongoing problem occurring in the United States and throughout the world. The figure 1/3 may seem like a harmless fraction, but consider the implications of this statement.
According to a 2011 United Nations report, the world wastes 1/3 of the food it produces.
1/3, a harmless little fraction now represents a very large number, which in turn represents a very large problem.
Narrowing the problem slightly, a turn to look at the United States produces more staggering statistics. Each year, Americans waste nearly 1/4 to 1/2 to food it produces. Using the conservative figure, this can be in the range of 160 billion pounds of food wasted per year. Food waste is defined broadly by Anthony Gallow in “Consumer Food Waste in the U.S.” as “all food purchased (or produced at home) that is not actually ingested by humans” (13). In comparison to this staggering statistic, a figure cited by the non-profit organization “Food not Bombs” says the total amount to feed the hungry of the United States is that of only 4 billion pounds.
In the fast-paced, fast-food society of the United States of America, the consumer drives the production of a variety of resources. Capitalism, at its core, caters to this highly demanding mode of existence. Webster’s Standard Dictionary defines the noun resource as something “that is available for use”. Under that definition, what happens when the multitude of resources are not available for use anymore?
Petroleum, natural gas, and water all fall under this concept of a resource that in the future may not be readily available for use. Unfortunately, a very important commodity not contemplated using this concept is that of food. Food, despite its availability on the shelves of gas stations and in aluminum cans in food pantries, should be treated with the respect that these other difficult-to-renew resources receive even though this is typically not the case.
My proposed best solution to this problem is that of consumer education efforts.
The largest problem with educational programming is accountability—how will businesses and consumers be held responsible for the information they gather? They may be sent to mandatory food waste prevention trainings trainings, but how many will actually do anything with the information? The phrase “You can lead a horse to water…” definitely comes to mind in this instance. However, consumer education and prevention efforts will yield positive results across the board.
Eventual savings (somewhere to the tune of $150-160 billion dollars) will outweigh immediate costs of starting the program making efficiency high. It is highly feasible that this could be incorporated into public education and mandatory food-service trainings. The best part of educational programming is that teaching the consumer and the business the implications of food waste will hopefully encourage them to waste less on the most part thus making effectiveness high.
So what now?
Continue to talk about it. Tell everyone you know. Share the number 1/3. See what happens. People are already coming up with creative and innovative ways of conveying this information. Photographer Klaus Pichler’s new exhibit, entitled One Third displays food destined for disposal in various stages of decay, along with a tagline about where the food is from, energy needed to produce it, and the ingredients. This display, besides turning stomachs, is turning gears in the mind of its audience members. Pichler is looking for wide distribution to non-profits around the world in order to raise continuous awareness to the problem.
The goal in writing this blog entry is to raise awareness to motivate audience members to waste less food. The effort to raise mindfulness through the presentation of this may only get one person to consider not trashing their leftovers they bring home from a big meal, or consider eating the food they already possess instead of getting pizza delivered.
That’s okay though.
However, if that one person continues to make life choices that support the concept of decreasing food waste, that will be enough to consider my work and research on this issue a success.