While global populations may be edging closer to a food crisis, it is not due to a lack of food. According to a study conducted by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of all the food produced around the world, approximately 1.3 billion tons a year, is never eaten. That is, one-third of the global food supply is lost or thrown away. The report indicated that the food waste is roughly split between developed and developing countries, though it is important to recognize that rich countries account for a small portion of the world’s population yet an equal share of the waste.
In developed countries, food waste is disproportionately the result of retailers and consumers who throw away “perfectly edible food.” This behavior can be described as nothing but wasteful. In developing countries, food waste is, for the most part, the unavoidable outcome of “poor infrastructure and low levels of technology in harvesting, processing and distribution.” The impacts of food scarcity on the developing world could be substantially reduced if the essential infrastructure were put into place to prevent this unnecessary waste.
In many ways, heightened food prices are more to blame for the prevalence of starvation than a scarcity of food. But even as food riots ignite throughout Africa, consumers in the world’s wealthiest countries continue to throw away a comparable quantity of food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
Food waste represents not only the squandering of produce but the meaningless loss of valuable natural resources. Food production relies heavily on water resources, land, labor, and capital. Not to mention the enormous quantity of fossil fuels burned during planting, harvesting, and post-harvest transportation, adding unnecessary tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year.
It is sad to consider how different these stats would be if Americans were willing to eat a bruised apple. I believe our migration away from the farm has distorted our understanding of the environment and disconnected us from where our food comes from. Changing consumer attitudes will be an uphill struggle in a culture so preoccupied with convenience. Our disposable society, begun by the consumer boom of the 1950s and 60s, will inevitably be the force that destabilizes the natural world.