Contributing Writer Andrej Dovciak, ’21
Advising children to finish the food on a plate might be the extent that most families go to in an attempt to avoid wasting food, and for the most part that is all that’s really necessary for families to do. Although food waste is an enormous problem, especially in light of growing knowledge of anthropogenic climate change, efforts of individuals and families are valuable, but not as important as those that must be undertaken by the food industry itself. A large quantity of food is wasted even before it would be reaching the consumers. In fact, farmers are often forced not to harvest some crops because it would be too expensive to do so, and those entire crops may go to waste.
In 2010, $161 billion worth of food was wasted in the US alone, reflecting that 24% of all cropland and water used in farming was used in creating waste. If greater effort is made to prevent food waste higher up in the food industry, much of that food that goes to waste can be effectively used. According to environmental researchers Yosuke Munesue, Toshihiko Masui, and Takesato Fushima, a 30% decrease in food waste could save 100 million acres of cropland by 2030.
Already some projects that aim to decrease food waste are in motion. In Seoul, 95% of food waste is recycled, and in parts of the US, government subsidies for farmers would permit farmers to harvest all of their crops and donate the crops from otherwise unharvested fields to food banks. New York City has the largest composting program in the nation, which helps manage food waste from homes and restaurants, but an additional 5% decrease to commercial food waste in the city would save 120,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year. Such initiatives to limit food waste both before and at the consumer level are great examples of what can be done, yet the focus should be shifted towards the restaurants, supermarkets, and farms, rather than on the consumers. The biggest differences can be made above the level of the average family.
Increasing the efficiency of harvesting and transporting foods, and developing markets for fully functional food that is not as aesthetically pleasing will make huge strides towards managing the desperate food waste problem facing the world right now. How can up to a third of the world’s food be wasted while starvation threatens populations all over the world? Avoiding food waste as a consumer is valuable, the more people who personally involve themselves the better, but to be truly effective in solving the food waste crisis, the problem must be handled closer to its source.
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