Today, we live in a globally connected society in which the food we buy can be sourced from thousands of miles away. This also means that the way we choose to consume affects others.
As the world’s population expands, so too does demand for food. Yet at the same time, most of this population growth is in poorer countries where hunger and malnutrition are common. This presents us a challenge – how to feed the world whilst minimising harmful impacts on the environment. One potential solution lies with you and I...
In January 2011, the UK Government Office for Science published a report titled "The Future of Food and Farming", on this very issue. The report argues that in order to “address the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead the food system needs to change more radically”. One newly recognised solution that the report highlights surrounds reducing food waste by producers and consumers.
From “production to plate” around 30% of food is wasted, with some estimates suggesting the figure is as high as a staggering 50%. So where is this food going?
After food is grown, some produce may be physically lost occur during harvesting and processing. Further losses may be due to disease, deterioration, or failure to meet quality standards during storage and transportation. These losses are typically more in low-income countries where storage facilities and transport infrastructure is poor. Academics have estimated that producer loss amount to 13-15% in South Asia. Food producers may not have the ability to reduce their losses therefore governments must do more to help.
Household surveys carried out in the UK, US, and Australia find that between 15% and 25% of food purchased ends up in the bin. One possible contributor to this wastage is that food is cheap. The government report suggests that the increasing food prices that we see for some food items today will naturally lead to us to buy less extravagantly. Although, the report stresses that this isn’t enough and that greater awareness of the amount of food we waste is required.
A further reason for food waste is that "best before" dates may not be accurate, leading us to throw away perfectly good food. The report calls for introduction of mass-produced sensor technology into perishable food products that would allow us to better manage our food.
Food services such as restaurants and supermarkets are thought to waste around 20%. Instead, food that is fit for human consumption could be redistributed via schemes such as Fareshare in the UK, and food not fit for human consumption could be used in animal feed or energy source.
Ultimately, the report estimates that if we could half the total amount of food wasted to 15% then the amount of food that we need by 2050 could be reduced by 25% of today’s production. As individuals, we have the capability to reduce the 925 million people that are hungry and provide for future population, we just need to make the conscious decision to do so.
If you'd like to understand more about the challenge of hunger and poverty, sign up to spend 5 days living below the line - eating and drinking on your local equivalent of the extreme poverty line - UK, Australia, USA.