Food Waste: It all adds up

By Sarah Tyrrell

Last month, world leaders gathered at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Their mission: implement a new agenda focused on sustainability and a commitment to 17 goals over the next 15 years.

At one of the lunches served, these diplomats enjoyed a meal reflective of Goal 12, “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns,” nicknamed the landfill lunch.

Imagine a meal crafted from vegetable scraps, off-grade produce, and nut oil by-product. It was just as it sounds; produced from foods that would typically end up in landfills, decompose, and produce methane. We typically attribute the emissions of fossil fuels in industry to our green house gas problems, and we often overlook the impact our food waste is having.

The Food and Agriculture Organization published a report in 2013, Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources, estimating that food produced and uneaten had a carbon footprint of 3.3 billion tons. Global food waste ranked third as the largest green house gas emitter behind the US and China.

“Take all you want, but eat all you take.”

This was the food conservation slogan used in the armed forced during WWII. Since the green revolution, many of us have lost sight of this philosophy.

Regardless of our access to food, throwing away food is throwing away money. You would not expect that in a country that is so concerned about capital.

California produces nearly half of the US fresh produce. A state facing a four-year drought, California has stressed very little on the agriculture industry to cut back on water usage, and for arguably good reason. Still, if the US attributes 37 percent of its groundwater to irrigation purposes and we are wasting at least 30 percent of the total food supply, that is a tremendous loss of water. A loss that perhaps California will not be able to sustain in later years.

With the US wasting a third of its food supply annually, it is hard to accept the fact that for every seven households in the US, one family is suffering from food insecurity. We often hear the politically incorrect phrase that follows after we are told to finish eating something, “there are starving children in Africa.” Apparently news to some people, starving children live in America, too, and we are finding ourselves throwing out twenty pounds of food per person monthly.

If we actually made use of that third of food we waste, not including the food scraps, but the perfectly good produce that goes to waste, we could hypothetically end world hunger.

Globally, we are looking at about $1 trillion lost in current production and consumption systems. This is an issue that can be addressed as a world, country, and as individuals. Many of us in the US are fortunate enough to have access to nutritional food daily.

Embrace your leftovers, proudly join the “clean plate club,” and be sensible at the grocery store or in the dining hall. We don’t need to be eating vegetable scraps, but to be throwing out pounds of palatable food is irresponsible. Food waste is bad for the environment, our wallets, and sends a horrible message to those with less. Recognizing our problem of food waste is our first step toward making impacting societal changes.

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