How are Hunger and Climate Linked? [Hint: Food Waste]

How can it be that 13% of the world’s people are hungry while 33% of food that’s produced isn’t available for consumption?  If that weren’t outrageous enough, consider that food not available for consumption generates 4.4 gigatons of CO2/year.  That makes “food waste” the world’s third largest Greenhouse Gas emitter, after China and the US.  What is going on!?

Though it turns out that food waste is an issue in both high- and low-income countries, the causes look starkly different, depending on where you live.  Yup, you probably guessed it.   In low-income nations, causes are mostly unintended and link closely to missing or poor infrastructure (e.g., storage or transportation networks).  Breakdowns typically happen early in the chain of activities from farm to table.  Contrast that to higher income nations where much of food waste is willful and happens much closer to table.  Whether it’s a retailer or consumer rejecting food because of its looks, or people not paying attention to what portion that can really eat or prepare, few experience much guilt when it comes to food waste.  Given the GHG implications, they ought to!

What do you see as the top reasons for food waste in your country?

What can be done??

[Further reading: Drawdown, pp.42-43]



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Curt Newton's picture

An update in this morning's

An update in this morning's news, here reported by Inside Climate News:

On Wednesday [September 20], some of the world's biggest food manufacturers and retailers agreed they would try to simplify these labels for consumers and whittle them down to just two. The companies, which include Walmart, Kellogg's, Nestle, Unilever and Tesco, said they would make the changes by 2020.

"We realize that a big percentage of the food wasted comes at the household level—about 40 percent," said Ignacio Gavilan, sustainability director of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), the Paris-based network of the world's largest consumer goods companies. "Food labels are one of the reasons. You and I, as soon as we see a package and see the labels, we get scared and throw it away, so it has to be crystal clear that the date is an expiration date."

On Wednesday, CGF's board called on its 400 members to display only one of two label types on any given product at a time: One—displaying a "use by" date on perishable items that indicates when a food is no longer safe to eat—and the other, displaying a "best if used by" date that indicates when a food bypasses its optimal quality.

We can all hope this is a good and useful step in reducing food waste.  Will be interesting to watch for companies' responses, and whether the recommendation has impact where it counts: not in PR goodwill, but in cutting the amount of food tossed to landfills.

Laura Howells's picture

One thing that I which more

One thing that I wish more food stores would do is include a "use by" or "eat by" date, in addition to a "sell by" date. Bad food poisoning experiences in the past have led me to be wary of gone off food and this definitely adds to the food waste in my household.