According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of all food grown globally is wasted or lost. This is a cause for serious concern. The scale of this problem in the United States is astonishing: each year, more than 40 percent of the food supplied is never consumed. An American family of four discards $1,600 worth of food waste annually. Yet, in 2014, more than 14 percent of households in the United States suffered from food insecurity and malnourishment. Furthermore, 5 percent of households were forced to reduce their food consumption or skip meals due to a shortage of resources.
According to a report by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, if we were able to utilize all “lost” food, over 190 million adults could be provided with 2,000 calories of energy every day. In fact, if Americans could recover all the food they wasted, they could feed 84 percent of the world’s population. Wastage of food has become a public health problem in the United States, hampering food safety, security and nutrition.
Every year, misguided concerns about food safety results in food wastage. Widespread misconceptions that food cannot be recovered due to safety concerns has forced businesses to throw out food that is safe and edible. For instance, perfectly edible food is dumped into landfills due to labeling errors. According to a report by Harvard University and the Natural Resources Defense Council, many Americans waste food simply because they are confused about expiration labels. Finally, the abundance of inexpensive food in supermarkets encourages consumers to waste food.
Low household assets, lack of job opportunities and certain demographic characteristics can result in lack of access to safe and nutritious food. According to Feeding America, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas are the states with highest rates of food insecurity; meaning people in these states do not have access to nutritious and safe food. Some 8.5 million Americans face hunger on a daily basis, and reply on church-sponsored meals and food banks. Over 13 million American children live in households with limited access to food, resulting in malnourishment at a very early age.
Although a majority of undernourished children live in families with at least one working adult, they do not receive consistent access to adequate food. Malnourishment can have severe consequences and is often responsible for higher school dropout rates, school repetitions and reduced physical capabilities. Medical research shows that malnourishment can affect the cognitive ability of children. A study reported that the United States could save $15.5 billion in healthcare spending, by appropriately addressing malnutrition caused by chronic diseases.
The problem is not just the food that is being wasted, but also the water overuse and soil, air, and water pollution resulting from the production of food. Thus, food waste has significant impacts on the global carbon footprint. Food waste is linked to environmental health and society’s attitude towards consumption. Hence, food loss is fundamentally related to human health.
Policy is undoubtedly the best way to solve America’s problem of food waste, but efforts to minimize food waste at an individual level can also go a long way. Since food waste is harmful to the environment, we must compost food scraps for use in the garden. As responsible consumers, we should buy less food and donate food that we do not plan on consuming to food banks. This is a great way to minimize food wastage and feed the needy in our communities. We must purchase “misshapen” fruits and vegetables. They are just as nutritious as fruits and vegetables with “perfect shapes”, but are more likely to be discarded.