Food Waste In The Us Argumentative Essay

Stop Wasting Food

By Selina Juul

At my recent TEDx talk, I mentioned that global food waste could feed every starving child, man and woman on this planet – three times over in fact! Here is some food for thought:

A global shame
Globally, human beings produce enough food waste to feed 3 billion people: over 30% of the world's food supply is wasted. The annual food waste in Italy could feed 44 million people – all of Ethiopia's undernourished population. The annual food waste in France is enough to feed the entire population of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just five per cent of United States' food waste could feed 4 million people for one day.

In 2011, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted that there is enough food in the world, yet millions are still starving – and unless we take action, it will devastate our planet.

"Everybody is waiting for somebody else to take action."

Who could possibly disagree: food waste is a global shame, especially in a world in which over a billion people are starving. And yet: everybody is waiting for somebody else to take action.

Can we send our leftovers to starving children in Africa? No, that is clearly not a permanent or sustainable solution. The problem in Africa is food loss. The amount of food lost per year in sub-Saharan Africa could feed 48 million people. Due to poor harvesting facilities, storage, packaging, distribution and the lack of a stable infrastructure, good food is lost in the fields before it even has a chance to reach peoples' bellies.

Food loss and food waste
In the West we waste approximately 40% of our food. This 40% happens at the end of the food value chain – by retailers and consumers. The same percentage of food, 40%, is lost in developing countries, though here the food losses happen at the beginning of the value chain. If we look at global food wasters, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), we find that Western populations, such as EU member states, top the list. Here approximately 179 kg is wasted per capita per year. In developing countries, only 6-11 kg is wasted per capita per year.

"But how does the food we waste in our homes in the Western world actually affect developing countries and hungry children in Africa?"

This global imbalance must be corrected. But how does the food we waste in our homes in the Western world actually affect developing countries and hungry children in Africa? Does it actually matter?

Indirectly, it does.

I participated in a panel debate during the People's Meeting (Folkemødet) in Bornholm at which the Secretary-General of the Danish Red Cross, Anders Ladekarl, said the following:

"The Western world's overconsumption of food is affecting global food prices: The more we in the West consume (and the more we throw out), the greater global demand for food becomes – and the higher food prices rise globally."

Let's imagine a pile of bananas, grown and produced in a developing country, transported all the way across the globe to a Western country just to be wasted because of some silly cosmetic reason. People in the very same developing country lack food. Imagine looking those hungry people in the eyes and telling them that the good bananas grown in their very own country are being thrown away just as fast they arrive in the Western world.

"Imagine looking those hungry people in the eyes and telling them that the good bananas
grown in their very own country are being thrown away just as fast they arrive in the Western world."

Food is the new gold
At my most recent panel debate at the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition 4th Annual Forum on Food and Nutrition, I addressed the food challenges of future generations. One of the speakers at the Forum, globally respected author and founder of the Worldwatch Institute, Lester R. Brown, mentioned that food was the new oil. I would say, however, that food is the new gold.

Why? Because fighting food scarcity will be one of the central geopolitical issues of the future.

1st fact: Population growth. By 2050, the earth's population will reach 9 billion people. By then, food production must be increased by 70 per cent to meet demand. Today we already produce enough food waste to feed 3 billion human beings. Reducing food waste should number among our key focal areas. The UN estimates that in just 20 years, the earth's population will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water.

2nd fact: Climate change. The increasing changes to our climate affect the world's agriculture and thus, the production of food. Floods, droughts and other increasingly irregular climate patterns will only worsen in future. More and more farmers are being forced to use GMOs and pesticides to ensure the survival of their harvest due to a changing climate, which in turn affects the loss of biodiversity.

3rd fact: Increasing food prices. This third fact has its roots in the 1st and 2nd facts, but additional factors include: the financial crisis, land grabbing (and the resulting desertification and deforestation), the world trade market structure, the global imbalance in food distribution, global and local food policy making, a lack of infrastructure, and a general lack of transparency in the food production value chain from farm to fork.

We must remember that there is enough food in the world, more than enough. Yet billions are still starving.

Who is to blame?
So, who should we point the finger at? Who is to blame? The industry? The politicians? The farmers? The retailers? Ourselves?

"Sometimes I wonder if the global food waste scandal is a self-perpetuating system."

At a conference in Bonn where I was a panel speaker, I learned from a fellow panel speaker from sub-Saharan Africa that African countries' agriculture often needs aid from the Western world. Unfortunately, this agricultural aid is often not used to improve agriculture. Instead, the money is appropriated by local politicians due to the lack of local infrastructure. In this particular case, a local politician bought 4 limousines from the agricultural aid money. This demonstrates that people on the ground are needed in Africa too in order to ensure that the money is indeed used to improve agriculture.

Sometimes I wonder if the global food waste scandal is a self-perpetuating system. Why have we, the consumers, become accustomed to such high standards that we cannot accept wonky fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets? Our choices affect the entire food production value chain and force farmers to toss out perfectly good fruits and vegetables because of the way they look.

Would there be a paradigm shift if Western countries were be able to cut their food waste? Would it affect developing countries? Would there be enough food for everyone? Is it even possible?

Yes, I think it is.

"If every single human being on this planet had enough food, it would change our societies. It would stop wars, put an end to suffering and even change the course of human history."

Imagine if every child, man and woman on this planet had enough food. Imagine what it would do to our human civilization. If every single human being on this planet had enough food, it would change our societies. It would stop wars, put an end to suffering and even change the course of human history. It could create a paradigm shift, a new era of peace on this planet. And I strongly believe that we can achieve that paradigm shift. That is why I have been working – for over 4 years and putting in over 40 volunteer hours a week – on the Stop Wasting Food movement. Because I strongly believe that humanity can and will come up with a solution. And I think about it every day.

We must remember that food is the most powerful basic necessity for human beings. It is what keeps us going. It is what is keeping us alive. Food waste is a clear indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with our civilization.

Look at nature: There is no food waste in nature whatsoever. Everything is used and recycled. Every resource is used intelligently. The only species on this planet unable to cut down on food waste is us humans.

You are in control
So, what are the solutions to the global food waste scandal? Are we still waiting for everybody else to do something about it?

Consumers have the power to change the entire system. And it would take just one simple personal step: stop wasting food. Will you continue to waste your food – and your money – after reading my article? Don't you think it's time for action?

"Do the industry and the retailers dictate your shopping habits – or do you?"

Buy only what you actually need. Cook leftovers. Share food with your neighbours. Use it up. It is the simple wisdom of our grandmas, the very same grandmas who admonished us as children not to waste food and to think of all the hungry children in Africa. Do the industry and the retailers dictate your shopping habits – or do you? Who is actually in control of this situation? You are of course. You are in control.

Demand wonky fruit and vegetable in the stores. Don't fall for quantity discounts if you don't need that amount of food. Don't overstuff your plate at the cafeteria if you already know that you can only eat half. Ask for a doggy bag at a restaurant.

And speak your mind: Encourage positive action everywhere! Encourage the food industry to donate edible surplus food to charities. Join consumer movements. Encourage politicians to act.

The European Alliance against Food Waste
You see, I am neither a celebrity chef nor a politician. I am just a simple consumer. In 2008, I got very tired of food waste. I created a group on Facebook: "Stop Wasting Food". Today, over four years later, the Stop Wasting Food movement Denmark (Stop Spild Af Mad) has become Denmark's largest non-profit consumer movement against food waste. We now number over 7,000 members and enjoy the support of high-ranking politicians who even include our former Prime Minister. We have published an award-winning leftovers cookbook; we have brought the topic of food waste to numerous Danish and international print media, radio and TV; we distribute good surplus food to homeless people; we have convinced a large retail chain, Rema 1000, to drop all quantity discounts; and we have helped put the topic of food waste on the UN and EU agendas.

And we are all just ordinary consumers, ordinary people. But ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Consumers cannot fight food waste alone though. All the stakeholders in the food production value chain must be involved: farmers, industry, retailers, canteens, restaurants, and food services.

A new EU project involving a team of 21 partners (including the Stop Wasting Food movement) will take a joint stand against food waste. Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies (FUSIONS) is a 4-year European project to combat food waste. The 21 partners from the 13 European countries involved include universities, institutions, NGOs, companies, and FAO itself. The project has been funded by the European Commission's FP7 and more than 80 European organizations have expressed their support for FUSIONS. It is the world's first joint and transnational action to end food waste.

The project's initial objective is to standardize the measurement of food waste. The next goal is to create a European platform of governmental and non-governmental organizations and companies from the food chain, i.e. industry, retailers and consumer organizations. The platform aims to provide simplified data that can identify and evaluate new initiatives for reducing food waste. The results will be disseminated to the public, and technical and policy recommendations will be developed for the entire value chain and the EU. The platform will then activate, engage, and support the main stakeholders in the European food value chain in order to deliver a 50 per cent reduction in food waste by 2020.

Can FUSIONS help feed hungry children in Africa? In the long run, it can.

Transparency across the entire food production value chain must be achieved. And FUSIONS can help create that transparency.

"Don't wait for the industry, the EU, politicians or someone else to act. Take action yourself."

But don't wait for FUSIONS, the industry, the EU, politicians or someone else to act. Take action yourself. No matter who we are, we are all consumers, we all eat, we all waste food - and we are all a part of the problem. And thus, we are also part of the solution.

The next time you are considering feeding good food to your rubbish bin, ask yourself: how many starving African families would approve of your actions?

Not one.

There, you have your answer.

You have the power. You have the knowledge. Don't wait for someone else to take action. Do it yourself.

Stop wasting food.

In the last several years, food waste has become an issue of growing interest among activists, scientists, and consumers alike. We are starting to recognize the significance of food waste and the social, economic, and environmental costs associated with it. Understanding and eliminating food waste has increasingly become the aim of scientific study, governments, and nonprofit organizations. This increased discussion may have been instigated in part by a landmark 2009 study, which estimated that America throws away almost 40% of its food. Since then, several reports and studies have sought to uncover this shocking statistic, explore the nature of food waste, and quantify the economic, social, environmental costs of wasted food.

One such study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that these direct and indirect costs (from impacts such as agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and erosion) added up to $2.6 trillion worldwide and annually. Clearly, this issue deserves widespread attention. Examining these costs of food waste more clearly, we can see that many come from resource loss and other environmental impacts of agriculture. Since much of the world’s resources are used to produce food (40% of its land, 70% of its freshwater, and 30% of its energy), every piece of food that is thrown away represents wasted resources: “huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land” (National Resources Defense Council). In the 2009 study cited above, it was estimated that about 25% of America’s water is used to produce food that is wasted. Activist and author Tristram Stuart points out that the environmental harms of “deforestation, depleted water supplies, massive fossil fuel consumption, and biodiversity loss” are all implicated in the problem of food waste. Additionally, food makes up the majority of waste in landfills, where its decomposition releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas and major contributor to climate change. These environmental costs also lead to direct and indirect social costs in the form of food insecurity, health costs from pollution and pesticide exposure, reduced farmer incomes, lost livelihoods, and increased likelihood for conflict and crime because of all the above factors (FAO).


This flow chart from the FAO study cited earlier depicts some of the social and environmental costs of food waste along the entire food supply chain from production to consumption.


In order to address the root problem of food waste, we must first understand where along the supply chain food is being wasted, which varies widely between developing and developed countries. In wealthy, developed nations like the U.S., food is wasted mostly at the consumption stage. There are several intertwined reasons for this. In highly developed countries, advanced technology in agriculture as well as food processing and distribution means that food is plentiful and cheap. Americans spend less of our income on food than most other countries in the world (6% compared to 43% in Egypt). Therefore, we often do not appreciate the true value of food and buy more than we need without much thought. Additionally, we throw away old food that is still safe to eat, relying on ‘best-by’ labels which “are generally not regulated and do not indicate food safety” according to the NRDC. Though there are other factors at work, low food prices are clearly connected to high food wastage. In an industrialized food system with low food prices, consumers often insist on extremely fresh, aesthetically perfect, and abundant foods. Stores over-stock their shelves accordingly and then end up throwing out unbought foods. USDA standards mean that any produce with a blemish or irregularity does not make it into the food supply so farmers are forced to leave unsightly produce to rot in the field. Fruits and vegetables make up the majority of this on-farm food waste, which is a significant contributor to food waste in developed countries.

In poorer, developing countries, food wastage is more concentrated toward the production side. Lacking technology and infrastructure for transportation and processing means increased losses to pests, spoilage, and weather. Methods to improve shelf life such as pasteurization and refrigeration are almost always absent in places where food is produced mainly by rural smallholders. Unfortunately, there is much less information about food waste in poor nations than in wealthy countries possibly because it is more difficult to gather information about the former. Food waste in developed countries accounts for the majority of worldwide waste, yet in developing countries it is still a huge problem because poorer regions often feel economic costs such as higher food prices and environmental costs such as water depletion more severely than developed areas do.


The above chart from a 2010 report on food security compares the sources of food waste in developing countries to those in developed countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. Each bar represents the total food waste in a given country, which is divided by color into different categories of food waste. For example food wasted during the “transport and processing” step of the food supply chain is shown in red. The chart shows very clearly that food waste which occurs “on-farm” and during “transport and processing” is the largest contributor in developing countries, whereas in developed countries “home and municipal” food waste dominates.


In an attempt to mitigate these costs which food waste incurs on developing countries, governmental and non-governmental organizations bring improved technology and methodology in food production, storage, transport, and marketing. For example, a recent article in National Geographic explained that “after the FAO gave 18,000 small metal silos to farmers in Afghanistan, loss of cereal grains and grain legumes dropped from 15 to 20 percent to less than 2 percent.” This advancement no doubt improved local livelihoods and contributed to a more secure, steady food supply.

NGOs have also helped to reduce food waste in developed countries like the U.S. These efforts have taken many forms, for example charities that glean unharvested food from farm fields or redistribute unsold food from grocery stores to food shelters. One innovative company called Leanpath produces technology to help retailers monitor their waste, which causes stores to realize the financial cost of wasting food and subsequently leads to decreases in food waste. In the U.K., a huge campaign by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has increased public awareness so that food waste is now a major topic of discussion and thought.


This fall, activist Rob Greenfield rode across the country on his bike and ate only food he found in dumpsters, along the way hosting “Food Waste Fiascos” in which volunteers rescued food from grocery store dumpsters and then gave it away to anyone who needed it. The above photo is from one such gathering in Madison, Wisconsin and shows only a small fraction of the food salvaged from dumpsters there.


Increased public awareness can help begin to shift strongly ingrained habits and mindsets surrounding the value and consumption of food. Even though a simple public awareness campaign might seem like an overused and unhelpful tactic, I think in this case it is a valid approach when implemented in strategic combination with others. Consumers are the greatest contributors to the food waste problem in developed countries, so we are necessarily a huge part of its solution. Simply appreciating all the work and energy that goes into food helps to value it and pay more attention to purchases and habits.

Still, top-down approaches in policy and regulation can also be extremely effective in combating food waste. In 2012 for example, Belgium passed a law requiring supermarkets to donate unsold products to local charities, using these companies’ surpluses to help meet the food needs of the poor. Rob Greenfield points out the many benefits of grocery stores donating food waste: “stores that donate… get tax write offs which means it’s profitable to donate, they spend less on dumpster fees, and most importantly they are doing what is right for their community.” Relaxing laws about cosmetic food standards can reduce on-farm waste of ugly but perfectly edible produce. Tristram Stuart’s idea to remove the ban on feeding food waste to pigs in the European Union would help to cycle the wastes of our food system right back into food production.

Combating food waste is an essential part of meeting the food demands of a growing population: just a 15% reduction in food waste in the U.S. could feed 25 million Americans, according to the same 2009 study cited earlier. Though many stress agricultural intensification and yield increases as the only solution to problems of food security, reducing food waste is clearly also part of the answer. When the problem is that many people don’t have enough food, we can try to grow more food and achieve yield increases of a few percent per year or we can distribute more effectively the nearly 40% of food that is currently being thrown away. It is extremely encouraging that this second option is already being explored and that so many viable solutions to this huge problem have been proposed and implemented. Through a diverse range of policy measures, cultural shifts, and non-profit efforts, we are slowly reducing food waste and its costs to developing and developed countries alike.


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