Some five million tons of food--enough to fill the John Hancock Building more than 14 times--will be wasted between Thanksgiving and the end of 2013. Worldwide, some 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted annually, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
The holidays are all about excess. Overpriced gifts, overbooked
schedules, and--of course--too much food.
Some five million tons of food--enough to fill the John
Hancock Building more than 14 times--will be wasted between
Thanksgiving and the end of 2013
. Worldwide, some 1.3
billion tons of food is wasted annually, according to the U.N. Food
and Agriculture Organization.
In the United States, roughly one-third of food is thrown
away as a result of over-buying and misinterpretation of expiration
and sell-by dates
. In the developing world, an equal
amount of food is lost because of poor infrastructure, pests, and
disease. As a result, all the hard work that farmers do to
fertilize and irrigate crops goes to waste, putting them further
And while wasting food presents a moral conundrum, it also presents
environmental and social challenges that policy-makers, business
leaders, and eaters need to be solve today, not tomorrow
Food loss and waste is insidious. A little bit is lost in fields, a
little is lost during transport, a little is lost in storage, and a
little bit is lost in homes. The amount of food wasted
in the U.S. each year totals some US$165 billion--and more than
US$40 billion of that waste comes from households, according to the
Natural Resources Defense Council
Recently, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called issued the Zero
Hunger Challenge, propelling nations to increase access to food,
prevent stunting, improve environmental sustainability in the food
system, and increase productivity on farms as well as reduce all
food loss and waste to zero.
And while Moon's goal may seem ambitious, they're more needed than
ever before. According to the FAO, hunger has decreased by roughly
17 percent since the early 1990s to 842 million hungry people
today. But progress has been uneven.More than 265 million
people sub-Saharan Africa alone are hungry and at least 100 million
tons of essential foods in the region are lost because of lack of
roads, proper storage facilities, and markets
Earlier this year, Moon called for nations to correct the inequity
of food waste in a world plagued by hunger. "By reducing food
waste, we can save money and resources, minimize environmental
impacts and, most importantly, move towards a world where everyone
has enough to eat," he urged.
Farmers, food processors and retailers, and consumers are already
taking the initiative to alleviate food loss and waste by finding
innovative ways to reduce food loss and food waste. Some of the
most interesting solutions are from organizations such as Growing
Power, which picks up and composts some 400,000 pounds of food
waste from Midwest businesses each week. In New York, City Harvest
collects food that would have otherwise been wasted from
restaurants and distributes it to those in need. And the Food
Recovery Network is mobilizing university students around the
country to distribute food from college cafeterias and catering
facilities to homeless shelters.
On the other side of the world, fishers in The Gambia are smoking
abundant fish harvests. In India, farmers are drying papayas and
mangos to help make sure that families have access to vitamin A and
extra income from the sale of dried fruit throughout the year.
And in Pakistan, the United Nations helped farmers reduce grain
storage losses by up to 70 percent by replacing jute bags and mud
silos with metal grain storage containers that prevent moisture and
vermin from eating grain.
On the policy side, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration need to work
together to ensure sell-by, expiration dates, and use-by dates are
regulated and easy for consumers to understand.
And more is needed to combat food loss and waste
This week, at the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition
5th Annual Forum, the Milan Protocol will be released, calling on
international leaders and food system stakeholders to improve
agricultural sustainability, control food price instability,
encourage healthy food choices, improve land rights--and combat
In 2014, the world leaders, businesses, civil society, and eaters
should resolve to make waste in the food system part of our past,
not our future.
What do you think?
Danielle Nierenberg is an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She recently spent two years traveling to more than 35 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America meeting with farmers and farmers’ groups, scientists and researchers, policymakers and government leaders, students and academics, and journalists collecting their thoughts on what’s working to help alleviate hunger and poverty, while also protecting the environment. She has spoken at major conferences and events all over the world and her knowledge of global agriculture issues has been cited widely in more than 3,000 major publications including The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, BBC, the Guardian (UK),
and other major publications. Danielle served as the Director of the Food and Agriculture program at the Worldwatch Institute. She also worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic.