The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that approximately 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted annually. FoodTank reports that in the United States, roughly one-third of food purchased by consumers is thrown away as a result of over-buying and misinterpretation of expiration and sell-by dates. In the developing world, an equal amount of food is lost because of poor infrastructure, pests and disease. As a result, all the hard work that farmers do to fertilize and irrigate crops goes to waste, putting them further into poverty.
In addition to the moral issues, wasted food also presents environmental and social challenges that policy-makers, business leaders and eaters need to be solve.
Food loss and waste is insidious. FoodTank says, “A little bit is lost in fields, a little is lost during transport, a little is lost in storage, and a little bit is lost in homes. The amount of food wasted in the United States each year totals US$165 billion—and more than US$40 billion of that waste comes from households, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Recently, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon issued the Zero Hunger Challenge, propelling nations to increase access to food, prevent stunting, improve environmental sustainability in the food system and increase productivity on farms as well as reduce all food loss and waste to zero.
"By reducing food waste, we can save money and resources, minimize environmental impacts and, most importantly, move towards a world where everyone has enough to eat,” says Moon.
These are ambitious but important goals. The FAO reports that hunger has decreased by roughly 17 percent since the early 1990s to 842 million hungry people today. But progress has been uneven. More than 265 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone are hungry and at least 100 million tons of essential foods in the region are lost because of lack of roads, proper storage facilities and markets.
Farmers, food processors, food retailers and consumers are already taking the initiative to alleviate food loss and waste by finding innovative ways to reduce food loss and food waste. Some of the most interesting solutions are from organizations such as Growing Power, which picks up and composts about 400,000 pounds of food waste from Midwest businesses each week. In New York, City Harvest collects food that would have otherwise been wasted from restaurants and distributes it to those in need. And the Food Recovery Network is mobilizing university students around the country to distribute food from college cafeterias and catering facilities to homeless shelters.
In 2014, the world leaders, businesses, civil society, and eaters should resolve to make waste in the food system part of the past, not the future.