My parents brought me up with a strong ecological sense of never wasting food, by filling my sensitive mind with images of starving Russian kids. Russia was a much more understandable context rather than Ethiopia or another developing country of which I certainly had never heard of as a young kid. I was always told to finish my plate and show respect for the meal. My parents succeeded so well in touching my conscience that to this day I think of starving babies every time I’m unable to finish my plate and feel miserably guilty.
30 years later, and the world is still full of hungry people. In Russia, in Ethiopia and in many other countries – malnourishment affects one in three people worldwide and is linked to nearly half of deaths among children under the age of five. This is happening, despite the fact that enough food is produced to feed every single person in the world. There’s no global food shortage yet hundreds of millions of people are hungry and severely under-nourished. The world doesn’t lack food, but we do lack sufficient infrastructure.
I’m currently working on organizing a large forum focusing on food and agriculture, with an aim to bring global leaders from governments, businesses and non-profits together to find solutions for improved agriculture, food production and farmer livelihoods. Food waste is one of the interesting topics I’ve had a chance to learn more about, adding now facts to the bad conscience.
FAO publishes interesting statistics and insights into the food waste:
- Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
- Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.
- Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy plus 35% for fish.
- Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
The list keeps going on:
- Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.
- The food currently lost or wasted in Latin America could feed 300 million people.
- The food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people.
- The food currently lost in Africa could feed 300 million people
- At retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance.
Exactly. This is about those misshaped cucumbers and odd-looking peppers. Which are often simply thrown away because retailers and customers care about the looks. Both sides take their part of the blame.
Over-eating is not a sustainable solution to the problem, but neither is letting food go wasted. We in the developed countries with the abundance of choices, we bear a major responsibility. We should only buy what we need, take as much as we can eat. A Dutch website had a great advise – taste before you waste.
Now a similar project is getting started in Finland – a food recycling center and a restaurant are to be opened this spring. Top-chefs will be preparing meals on ingredients available from selected partner stores and restaurants, using items which would otherwise go wasted. Perfectly edible obviously – products which wouldn’t otherwise sell. The From Waste To Taste – project is further looking to create social impact by employing for example unemployed youth and immigrants and raising awareness on ecological behavior and food wastage.
I know me finishing my plate is not helping the world’s hungry but I am thankful that my parents taught me early on to appreciate what I have. To respect food. Which should be shown not in over-eating but in choosing wisely. I’m doing my best on my part and am always happy to support initiatives which truly are trying to address this global problem. Hopefully through our forum I will learn of many more inspiring projects around the world. If you have great projects and stories to share, you’ve found a good listener in me.
Now it’s time for dinner. All this talk about food has made me so hungry I will certainly not waste a bite.