Today, in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal entitled “Hungering for a Solution to Food Losses“ (see below or click HERE), Anna Lappe and I discuss the enormous amount of food wasted worldwide. In the United States alone, we waste about five million tons of food just between Thanksgiving and New Year’s— that’s enough to fill 125,000 18-wheelers, which would stretch from Chicago to Seattle.
Fortunately, there are a lot of amazing groups and individuals working on preventing waste throughout the world. The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition in Italy, for example, recently published a report on the importance of identifying better ways to measure food loss and food waste. And Dana Gunders (Natural Resources Defense Council), Selina Juul (Stop Wasting Food), and Tristram Stuart (Feeding the 5000) are all doing work to create awareness, educate consumers, and identify solutions for preventing waste all along the food chain. In addition, Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, offered these 10 waste-saving tips for holiday gatherings in The Huffington Post.
Food waste tends to be pervasive across the food chain: some loss in the field, some loss in storage, some loss in transport—and then wasted at retailers, restaurants and finally by us, at home. In the United States, consumers throw away about one and a half pounds per person daily, the Environmental Protection Agency says. The cost of this waste isn’t just to our wallets. As food waste decomposes in landfills it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 26 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.
There are ways to prevent waste—and hunger—in both developing and industrialized countries alike. Many of the strategies throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America are simple, and often inexpensive, innovations. In Gambia and India, for example, solar-powered dehydrators are used to dry papayas and mangos, reducing fruit going to waste at the peak of the season and providing a great source of vitamin A throughout the year. In Bolivia, farmers are using driers to preserve a number of different crops, such as tomatoes and potatoes, throughout the year.
In Africa, hermetically sealed bags—essentially really big Ziploc bags—protect crops from moisture, insects and fungus. Researchers from Purdue University are working with farmers to protect cow peas, a legume crop that is high in protein, and to help distribute the bags across Niger, Nigeria, Mali and beyond. This technology has the potential to save farmers in the region around $44 million annually.
In Pakistan, the U.N. has helped farmers reduce grain-storage losses by up to 70% just by replacing jute storage bags and mud silos with metal grain-storage containers that protect against moisture and prevent insects and rats from eating grain.
In this country, the California Association of Food Banks launched a “Farm to Family” initiative in 2006 to collect produce from growers and packers in the state that would have gone to waste. By 2011, the program was distributing more than 120 million pounds of 38 different fruits and vegetables across the state. Author Tristram Stuart’s Feeding the 5,000 project is showing consumers in the United Kingdom—and soon in sub-Saharan Africa—how to use what Mr. Stuart calls “wonky” (or irregularly shaped or imperfect) fruits, vegetables and other crops to create delicious meals.
So as you dig into your meals this holiday season, think about not piling those potatoes so high and about composting those scraps. And remember the abundance of food is all around us.
Ms. Lappé is the author of “Diet for a Hot Planet” (Bloomsbury USA, 2010) and founder of the Real Food Media Project. Ms. Nierenberg is the co-president of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank.