Nothing Needs to be Wasted


Brian KallerSeveral years ago a study found that up to a third of all food sold was thrown away uneaten – inexcusable in a country where farmers struggle and children go hungry. That country was the United Kingdom, which has a generally good record of conserving its resources, so pundits wondered what a global study would find. 

Such a study was released earlier this year – by the Institution for Mechanical Engineers, somewhat surprisingly – and looked at impoverished Third-World nations as well as the prosperous West. Unfortunately, their findings revised the figure … upwards. 

The IME report found that “30-50% (or 1.2-2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach” across rich and poor countries alike. The reasons varied, however; poorer countries had less money and technology to harvest and store food properly, while countries like ours waste food mostly through “retail and consumer behaviour.”

The retail part accounts for a third of all crops brought to stores, they said, when “supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance.” For ten thousand generations humans ate or preserved what was ripe; now we demand food appear before us in all seasons, looking like it came off an assembly line. 

Then, once the food is on the store shelves, “commonly used sales promotions frequently encourage customers to purchase excessive quantities which, in the case of perishable foodstuffs, inevitably generate wastage in the home. Overall between 30 percent and 50 percent of what has been bought in developed countries is thrown away by the purchaser.” That’s up to 50 percent in our homes on top of the 30 per cent at the store – up to 80 percent overall.  

Such depressing findings studies do have a glass-half-full side, however: we could cure world hunger right now with what we already have. Of course, there’s no one giant pool of food – if we waste less, it won’t mean a village of Africans suddenly receives more. It might mean, though, that lands being used to grow crops for us – bananas, coffee, whatever – could instead be used to feed local people, or some other effect.

10/2/2013 6:49:55 PM

Brian, welcome to the GRIT blogging community. I couldn't agree with you more about wasted food. On the farm all of our waste went into producing pork. Pigs are nature's disposal. They will eat every thing and anything. However, the urbanization of our culture has brought with it the cheap food from far away places. So far away that city folks think they are deprived if they can't get what they want when they want it. I can remember when word would spread like wildfire through the community when the first load of Texas watermelons were in the stores or when the Missouri or Colorado peaches came to town. Now anything goes even if it has to come from Australia for crying out loud. The lettuce salad travels hundreds if not thousands of miles to reach our plate. More calories of energy are spend bringing food to our table then are in the food. This food culture we live in can not be maintained for ever. Keep speaking out against waste. Have a great fall day in the garden.

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