When I read science writer Matt Ridley, the author of The Rationale Optimist: How prosperity evolves, he says: “It is not insane to believe in a happy future for people and the planet.” But, when I read the Washington Post story on food waste yesterday, I cannot share his sunny outlook about the world.
At a time when the world is gripped by economic crisis and afflicted with poverty and disease, Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), a non-profit environmental group in the US, has revealed a shocking truth: 40 percent of food in the US, which equals to about $165 billion, is uneaten every year. The report also highlights that a high level of food in the US goes into the trash every year.
An average American family of four, the report says, throws up to $2,275 worth of food in the trash annually. Since the 1970s, the NRDC says food wastage has skyrocketed by 50 per cent, while food wastage is the largest element of solid waste in US landfills.
Unsold fruits and vegetables comprise a significant portion of wasted food. Moreover, restaurants, fast food outlets and even consumers contribute to the heavy losses by preparing large portions, which then lead to uneaten leftovers that usually go in the garbage.
The report claims that even a 15 per cent reduction in food supply losses could feed as much as 25 million Americans per year.
It didn’t come to me as a surprise, though.
I have travelled some of the affluent cities of the world. Whether it is Hong Kong, Beijing, Frankfurt or New York, the picture is painfully same everywhere. What surprises me is the amount of food that is wasted at restaurants and eateries. I was shocked to see food leftovers piling up on dining tables and then dumped into trash bin.
Have we spared a thought for those hungry millions in sub-Saharan areas in Africa? According to a UN report, nearly 1 billion people suffer from hunger today. About 19 millions of them are children under the age of five at immediate risk of dying. This risk results in 3.5 million child deaths every year.
At a time when specters of droughts loom even over the US south (parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico,Arizona, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina), it’s time the US citizens paid heed to the gravity and consequences of the report.
I have seen in Beijing and Shanghai people ordering more food than they possibly could consume to give the impression of being so much generous. I also noticed that most people were not interested in taking home the leftovers. The food wastage, I noticed, was critically high in buffet lunch or dinner.
According to the UN, the Sahel region of West Africa, which stretches across eight countries including Chad, Mauritania and Gambia, 18 million people in the region are suffering from food shortages caused by drought and conflict. The Unicef says that nearly 1.5 million children are facing near starvation.
Another report says that European and North American consumers wasted approximately between 209 and 253 pounds of food per person each year.
If Western waste could be halved and the food distributed to those who need it, the problem of feeding 9 billion people would disappear. If we humans stop being wasteful and become a little bit frugal as far as food consumption is concerned, we can save millions of starved souls across the globe.