Our modern food system is a marvel of human ingenuity. It’s allowed us to produce an abundance of food and reduce global hunger like never before in human history. But with great bounty also comes great waste. All it takes is a passing glance at food waste statistics to see the problem. Each year, about 1.3 billion tons (1,300,000,000,000 kg) of otherwise perfectly edible food is thrown in the trash. For consumers in the U.S. and Europe, that figure equates to about 250 pounds (113 kg) of food waste per person per year, enough to feed someone for about two months. 33%-55% of all food produced around the world is never eaten, amounting to over $1 trillion in value.
At the same time, while modern advances in agriculture and food distribution have allowed us to feed more and more people each year, there are still about 800 million of us going to bed hungry each night. The amount of food wasted each year could feed the world’s hungry at least four times over. So, if we’re producing enough food so that no person on the planet needs to go hungry, why are so many still going without enough food?
But the food waste epidemic is a problem not only in the face of global hunger, it also has negative effects on the environment. Most food waste ends up in landfills, where it makes up a large percentage of the total space. Once wasted food ends up in a landfill, it decomposes into methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20-25 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
Global food waste is a serious problem, and it’s become a growing concern not just for activists fighting world hunger and climate change but for chefs as well. Many of the world’s top chefs have spoken out publicly about the issue in an attempt to influence public policy and individual behavior. Chefs like Massimo Bottura, Gordon Ramsay, Francesco Mazzei, Jamie Oliver, Tim Ma, and many more have all either spearheaded or taken part in major campaigns to reduce food waste, starting with restaurant food waste, which is responsible for a significant portion of the global food waste pr oblem . Using their celebrity and influence to help influence public debate, these chefs are part of a growing movement to educate people about reducing food waste and increasing the sustainability of our food system.
But not all of us have the same clout as a famous chef, so what can we mere foodie mortals do to help combat the problem? The most important thing is awareness. Just knowing that the food waste problem exists and that it’s important can help people cut down on the amount of food they throw away. By paying more attention to our food buying habits we can avoid buying food we know will spoil before we have the chance to cook it, or practice freezing foods for later before they go bad. Changing our habits at restaurants can also have a significant effect. While in some countries it may be uncommon or even taboo to ask to take uneaten food home for later, changing our practices around using leftovers can make a big difference.
Learning how to compost food can be another important step. While people in many European countries are required to separate food waste for composting as a part of regular municipal waste collection, the practice is less common in other regions. But compost doesn’t just help increase the amount of food waste recycling, you can also use it to grow your own home garden or windowsill veggie boxes, which helps increase food sustainability even more.
Food waste apps have also recently begun to address the issue. Food waste apps can help you reduce food waste by tracking food expiration dates and alerting you when it’s time to use an ingredient, connecting you with neighbors to share extra food, or even alerting you when a nearby restaurant, market, or street food stall is offering discounts on foods near their expiration date or left unsold at closing time. Apps can also be used by restaurants to track and monitor t heir food waste, reducing the amount of good food that goes into the trash bin. But the most significant benefit of food waste apps is their use in the global food production and distribution systems, where the biggest impact on the food waste problem can be made. These apps can optimize the industrial food system for sustainability, and can also direct perfectly good food that would otherwise get wasted directly into the hands of the poor and homeless, or to a charitable organization for distribution.