While we currently produce enough food to feed the world’s 7.3 billion people, 795 million go hungry. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated a third of the world’s food fit for human consumption does not reach consumers.
Transportation, refrigeration, and preservation have always been major obstacles to be overcome in the distribution of food resources. Modern production lines have improved and these bumps in the road have become navigable. A large part of the discrepancy, at least in the United States, remains due to waste by distributors, retailers, and consumers every year. A 2013 UN report estimated that 550 million tons of food are discarded every year – in the United States alone, 30% of all food is thrown away annually. Interestingly, food waste in developing countries occurs early in the production chain due greatly to managerial and technical constraints, while food waste takes place later in the process in industrialized countries. The United Nations and the United States have agreed to work toward a reduction of food waste over the next 10-15 years.
Promising solutions to the problem of food waste have already been presented and are being implemented in Europe and here at home. The sale and use of visually unappealing foodstuffs have been the focus of many of these programs. Nicolas Chabanne, a French entrepreneur with connections to fruit and vegetable farmers, has established a creative campaign he calls, ‘Gueules Cassees’ or in English, ‘Ugly Mugs.’ He has designed and sells a sticker-logo (a smiling apple with a black eye and single tooth) that is affixed to blemished produce and is sold at a reduced rate (at least a 30% discount). Mr. Chabanne, donates the majority of the proceeds from the sale of the stickers to other organizations that fight food waste. The Ugly Mugs concept has spread to other countries in Europe and America. similarly, in San Francisco, Imperfect Produce is a home-delivery service that sells damaged fruits and vegetables.
Chefs and food celebrities are also rallying against food waste with solutions of their own – creative cooking. In Milan, restaurant owner Massimo Bottura, in conjunction with Caritas Ambrosiana and Davide Rampello, opened an experimental soup kitchen which serves delicious meals from salvaged food waste. The best chefs in the world, along with local volunteers, serve meals to a selection of Milan’s homeless population. They’ve turned day old bread into sweet puddings, black bananas into fabulous banana breads, and weekly broths and minestrone from bruised vegetables, scraps, and peelings. These recipes can be reproduced at home inexpensively by those on even the tightest budget. “These dishes change the way we feed the world, because they can be cooked by anyone, anywhere, on any budget,” said Mr. Bottura about the dishes served in Refettorio Ambrosiano. “For families in need, it’s a way to bring dignity back to the table – dignity based not on the quality of the ingredients, but on the quality of the ideas.”
Reducing food waste with programs like the ones I’ve mentioned, can not only provide food for those who might otherwise go hungry, but it also has an impact on our environment and natural resources. The squandering of food is also a squandering of water, land, energy and labor. Reducing food waste can only be accomplished if each of us considers ways in which we may better steward our own resources. We may not be able to feed the hungry in far away lands, but we do have opportunities to make a difference in our own community. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the One who fed 5000 with two fish and five loaves, it is my hope that we would look for ways in which to meet the needs of our fellow-man and woman.
“Food Waste Facts.” World Environment Day –. United Nations environment Programme, 2009. Web. 16 Dec. 2015. <http://www.unep.org/wed/2013/quickfacts/>.
Chauvet, Caroline. “Save the Planet. Eat Ugly.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Dec. 2015. Web. 16 Dec. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/11/business/energy-environment/save-the-planet-eat-ugly.html?_r=0>.
Bottura, Massimo. “Chef Massimo Bottura on Why the Future of Food Is in Our Trash.” WSJ. The Wall Street Journal, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/chef-massimo-bottura-on-why-the-future-of-food-is-in-our-trash-1449506020>.