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Food Waste Is The World’s Biggest Enemy

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Food waste is becoming an increasingly major problem today. It is something that doesn’t occur in simply one location but rather takes place all around the world and happens throughout the entire production process, “…from the farm to distribution to retailers to the consumer”. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is a “component of food loss [that] occurs when an edible item goes unconsumed, such as food discarded by retailers due to undesirable color or blemishes and plate waste discarded by consumers”. The Environmental Protection Agency has also categorized it as a municipal solid waste. It is a problem that has increased about 50% since the year 1974 and is only expected to get worse as time goes on. Food waste occurs for many reasons, is extremely costly, negatively affects the environment, and needs to be reduced, if not stopped all together.

In today’s day and age, food waste has been found to be the result of a plethora of different things. For example, sometimes farmers over plant their fields in the event of a difficult growing season but then decide that it is too expensive to harvest the crops so instead they leave entire fields of produce to rot. Similarly, farmers also tend to discard food because of imperfections in appearance. This means that at times, food is wasted before it even makes it past the first stage of production. Another cause of food waste is the general confusion surrounding “best by”, “sell by”, and “use by” dates.

Typically, these dates are meant to let people know when the product is going to taste best or to let stores know how long to display the item for sale for inventory purposes, they are not, however, accurate representations of when the item of food is no longer safe for consumption. Another reason food waste occurs is revealed by experienced journalist, Adam Chandler in his article, “Why Americans Lead the World in Food Waste”, in which he posits that this phenomenon is “…enabled in large part by a national obsession with the aesthetic quality of food.” Doug Rauch, the former president of the Trader Joe’s Company even stated, “Grocery stores routinely trash produce for being the wrong shape or containing minor blemishes”. This means that food waste is occurring in large amounts because neither consumers nor retailers can accept the fact that food like fruits and vegetables are not always “perfect” looking and sometimes bruise or discolor.

The consequences of food waste go far beyond what most people can even imagine. It said that Americans alone throw out enough food to fill 730 football stadiums. Considering how enormous those stadiums are, learning that wasted food could fill up that many is truly astounding as well as frightening. However, it is not all that hard to believe when one takes into account the fact that 40% of the food in the United States goes uneaten each year. That amount is equal to about 60 million metric tons of food which is the same as throwing out $162 billion a year.

Additionally, about 32 million metric tons of the food wasted in America ends up in municipal landfills which in turn ends up costing the local governments around $1.5 billion a year. Globally, the numbers are even worse. It is estimated that a third of the food produced around the world is never consumed and that the total cost of such waste could be as high as $400 billion a year. These numbers are heartbreaking when one bears in mind the surfeit of individuals that live in a constant state of financial struggle all around the globe.

The poisonous talons of food waste have even started affecting the environment. Ninety-eight percent of the food disposed of ends up in landfills because when consumers, farmers, or businesses have excess food, they more often than not, simply throw it out. This discarded food rots and releases methane gas, which has twenty-one times the climate-affecting capabilities of carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. That makes wasted food a harmful and big enemy of the environment. Globally, the situation becomes even more alarming because the amount of food wasted creates 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually which is about 7% of the world’s total emissions.

Authors John Mandyck and Eric Schultz offer a different viewpoint in their book entitled, ​Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change​, in which they state, “…if food waste were a country by itself, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the United States.” Besides emitting methane gas into the atmosphere, food waste also affects the environment in other ways including depleting water, land, energy, and labor capital resources during the growing and transporting of food that will ultimately feed no one. Harvesting, shipping, storing food, as well as, applying fertilizers and pesticides use up huge amounts of fossil fuels which only contributes to the already devastating climate problems. Therefore, it is clear that wasting food doesn’t just affect one’s pockets but leaves a lasting negative impression on the environment as well.

Seeing how much food waste affects people and the environment, it is completely baffling why more individuals and businesses don’t try to join the fight to combat this growing problem, especially seeing as how there are so many ways to do so. One such way is presented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA promotes individuals donating food because it involves, “recovering food to feed hungry people, providing food to livestock farmers or zoos, recycling food for industrial purposes, and composting food to improve soil fertility”. Many businesses still refuse to do this though because they believe that it takes too much money and energy to donate it, however, the United States has a large network of food-donation centers so finding one that could accommodate the businesses needs could not be all that difficult.

Also, many donation centers as well as other sources provide grants to people to help ease the “burden” of donating food. For example, Hennepin County, located in the state of Minnesota, provides grants ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 to local businesses to help them recycle their food products. Another reason why businesses don’t seem to want to donate their unwanted produce is because they fear that if someone were to become ill from eating the food that they donated, they would be held liable, however, there are things in place to prevent that from happening. One such thing is the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act which “…removes civil and criminal liability for ‘persons’ or ‘gleaners’ who in ‘good faith’ donate ‘apparently wholesome food’ or ‘apparently fit grocery product[s]’…to a nonprofit organization for ultimate distribution to needy individuals”. Therefore, using liability as an excuse not to donate food is not a very good one and even if the food were not fit for human consumption, most organizations could still find acceptable uses for it like making it into compost which improves soil conditions because it doesn’t add chemicals to it like fertilizers do.
Considering the fact that the amount of food discarded by retailers and consumers globally is enough to feed all of the world’s 870 million hungry people, more action should be taken to deal with this problem. Although, some have taken the lead in paving the way to a better future. The Food Waste Reduction Alliance for instance is working with supermarket chains to help clarify expiration dates and talk them into selling smaller portions of food. Other businesses, like the Bay Area’s Imperfect Produce, are starting to deliver unattractive but still consumable produce to people at a discount. France has even gone a step further by banning supermarkets from discarding food by directing them to compost or making them donate all expiring as we as unsold food. Germany, much like the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, is also working on reforming the expiration dates put on produce.

Others suggest ways in which governments can encourage farmers to donate excess produce to food donation centers which includes giving them tax credits. Or if farmers are really against the idea of donating their produce, they can sell them to food banks at a reduced rate so that everyone is happy. There are also those that suggest supermarkets sell damaged, “ugly”, or nearly expired products at discounted prices or by offering “half-off” promotions to entice people to purchase them.

No one can deny the fact that food waste is becoming a growing global concern and that more people need to join the fight to help end or at least reduce it. There are a surfeit of ways businesses, farmers, or even regular individuals can help fight against this problem, they need only have determination and good intentions. There has been a war against world hunger for some time now, yet the answer to solving that problem has been right under everyone’s noses and it’s something as simple as focusing our attention on food waste. Millions of women, men, and children around the world would never have to go to bed hungry again if people simply joined together and did their part in stopping this growing phenomenon. Smaller portions of food, better labeling dates on products, and food donations could all bring us one step closer to a world where people aren’t dying of starvation at the same time that others throw away food simply because it is bruised.

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