New data shows shocking food waste levels

By Pankaj Adhikari Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-2 17:53:00

Call it a byproduct of affluence or what you will.

At a time when hunger has reached staggering levels around the world, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) revealed a shocking truth: 40 percent of food in the US, worth about $165 billion, goes uneaten every year.

An average American family of four, the report says, tosses out up to $2,275 in food annually. Since the 1970s, food wastage has skyrocketed by 50 percent, while food wastage is the largest element of solid waste in US landfills, the report adds. Food waste, as it decays in landfills, also produces methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

A UN report says globally 19 million children under the age of 5 face immediate risk of dying, which means 3.5 million children deaths annually.

When asked how much baby food that is wasted in the US can feed babies in Third World countries, Dana Gunders, project scientist at NRDC, San Francisco, CA, told the Global Times: "I don't know about baby food specifically. The UN's FAO estimates that the average consumer in North America wastes 10 times that of someone in South Asia. This is really an ethical tragedy."

"While it's hard to imagine that food from an individual's kitchen in one country has any relation to hunger across the world, we are facing a global increase in demand for food," said Gunders. "As that demand grows, we will need to become less wasteful and ensure any food grown is going to its best use. Just as energy efficiency reduces demand for energy, wasting less food can do the same."

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the energy embedded in wasted food represents about 2 percent of annual energy consumption.

The NRDC report says even a 15-percent cut in food supply losses could feed as many as 25 million Americans per year.

Speaking to the Global Times, Andrew Shakman, co-founder and president of LeanPath, Inc. in Portland, Oregon, said: "Due to food loss and food waste, approximately 40 percent of the food produced in the US is never consumed. This vast amount of waste consumes financial resources and generates adverse environmental impacts. It also drains money and food, which might otherwise help needy Americans who don't know the source of their next meal… Americans need to focus efforts to prevent and minimize food waste."

LeanPath has devised an automated food waste tracking system that has helped cut food waste and run more sustainable operations.

"Americans must realize the consequence of food waste when specters of droughts loom over parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina," Amit Sengupta, an Indian-American in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told the Global Times.

"The first time I went to Costco, I was shocked by the giant cold storage room where frozen fruit was kept… In a restaurant, a deluxe burger could feed at least two guys… Even a cup of coffee served in a café is impossible for one to consume," said Zongpu Yue, a Chinese student at Columbia University, New York.

Vineet Kumar, a software engineer in Bear, Delaware, said kids must be taught about the consequence of food waste. "Less food waste leads to more efficient land use and better water resource management… If we stop being wasteful, we can save millions of starved souls across the globe," he said.


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