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The War on Food: Self Inflicted Casualties

The world is in a deadly battle with food.

I’m sorry to tell you this but you’re responsible…and so am I. But it’s not just humans that are trying to destroy food.

Wheat rust. Turning ants into zombies. Science fiction can’t come up with better than what really happens out there.

And even when we’re trying to create more food, we’re destroying the source of sustenance for so many other plants, animals and living things you’ve never heard of before.

UN to World: You’re Doing It to Yourself

A recent UN study claims that one third of the world’s food is wasted. That’s worth repeating.

One third of the world’s food produced for human consumption is wasted!

Immediately, my mind races with thoughts when I hear this.

  • The methodology of the study must be flawed to come to such a conclusion…right?
  • There’s some technicality the study is taking advantage of. The true percent of food wasted must be much lower.
  • What part in the food production and consumption chain is the most to blame? Production, handling and storage, processing, distribution or consumption?

After reading the original study there’s no flaw that I can see. The sensationalist headline turns out to be sensational because it’s true.

Read this study if you want a concise breakdown of all the various ways we’re screwing ourselves. If you don’t want to take action after reading it you may not be human.

Some truly mind boggling parts include:

  • On average, each person in Europe and North America discard more food each year than they weigh (200+ lbs or 100+ kg).
  • 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted globally per year. This means huge amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain. It also means that the greenhouse gas emissions created in the food chain are in vain.
  • I read to the bottom of the study and saw this disclaimer in the Conclusion section: “Due to lack of sufficient data, many assumptions on food waste levels at…the distribution and consumption levels had to be made. Therefore, the results in this study must be interpreted with great caution.”

Oh really? Get familiar with these two graphics, which have nothing to do with distribution and consumption, and tell me again I need to exercise caution.

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Wedding Feasts: Only Fun if You Get to Participate

On a related note, the government of India is considering restricting lavish feasts so the poor can have food. Turns out big-time weddings are preventing some of the poor people in India from eating.

The crazy thing is this isn’t new. Afghanistan came up with the policy first.

It’s an age old human tradition to have feasts to celebrate important events. Whether it was a harvest festival four thousand years ago or the last Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter meal you had, people are seriously into feasts.

So I’m not picking on Indians, Hindus, Muslims, Asians, Jews, Christians, Americans or any other group.

Everybody does it but common practice doesn’t make it right.

How to Wage War on Food Waste

I found an excellent article in onearth.com about how we can fight back against food waste. If you don’t care to read the whole article then just read this:

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that Americans waste 30 percent of all edible food produced, bought, and sold in this country, although it acknowledges that this figure is probably low. Recently, two separate groups of scientists, one at the University of Arizona and another at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), published estimates of 40 percent or more. Add up all the losses that occur throughout the food chain, the NIH researchers say, and Americans, on average, waste 1,400 calories a day per person, or about two full meals.”

If you read the whole article you realize that all is not lost. We can fight back.

But just imagine if we ate all the food that ends up being wasted. We would all be huge due to the extra calories! So perhaps the solution is not to eat everything we buy or that gets put on our plate. Maybe the answers are more complex than a road map stating “do this, then do that and equilibrium will return to the world.”

Your Take Away

I try to think about this rationally and analyze why we’re at war with our food. There is no doubt we’ll never have the infrastructure and willpower to eliminate all sources of food instability. To try and achieve that is a fool’s game.

The paleo lifestyle I’ve adopted tries to think of some easy answers but there aren’t any. We could shift priority of food production and consumption from a category that is wasted more (cereal grains) to a category that is wasted less (meat). But how would we feed all those animals who provide us meat without the cereal grains that most farms use to feed their livestock?

We could do things organically and eliminate feeding animals grains they were never built to consume. But without industrial farms cranking out food at a scale needed to feed the world’s 7 billion people (and growing) how would everyone get enough to eat?

I’m not offering solutions this time. This topic is way more complex than a novice like me to solve.

I’d just like to leave you with a graphic from National Geographic to think about.

You might not become a food fighting evangelical but at least help to control the waste in the food chain you can impact.

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What are you going to do as a result of reading this? Leave a comment and tell us what action you will take.

Photo credit: Alison Seiffer
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