What We Throw Away May
Help Fuel Hunger & Obesity
Technically, we already produce food enough to feed well all seven billion people on Earth. So how come there’s more hunger than ever before? That’s one of the reasons why starting a sentence with ‘technically’ almost always leads it to its opposite conclusion.
As a new report has shown, Americans throw 40 percent of their food in the trash, but it’s unlikely that we’re the only culprits; we’re just the fattest. Since we can’t always clear our plates, a lot of good stuff goes from there straight to garbage bins.
It seems cruel that in the world’s richest country, so much food gets thrown away, while poverty is rampant and natural resources can’t recover as quick as needed to meet demand. Some studies put the number of American children going to bed hungry at over 40 million every night.
At the same time, there’s a rush to produce more food, almost never with the necessary ethical standards, respect for the environment, and care about the health of those who will be fed. The under-regulated market for development and trade of seeds already moves billions, and is driven by profits, not social concerns.
In the U.S., the business of food production is so powerful as to write its own rules, and the ghastly realities of its main staple, animal products, are rigidly guarded away from the public eye. Periodically, an underground video emerges to offer a glance at the medieval conditions animals are submitted to feed us in this country.
No wonder food recalls are so numerous every month, due to contamination, poisoning, faulty packaging, poor storage, or pure low quality ingredients. Despite being posted on the FDA Website, most go completely unnoticed. This past June, for instance, of 18 recalls, only one made the news: packaged salad, ironically one of the missing items of the average American diet.
THE AVOIDABLE WASTE
One of the consequences of being bombarded by the constant solicitation to eat, and eat more, even when not hungry, is that, well, we often eat when we’re not hungry. Typically from a rich society, we may spend more time chewing and drinking during the day than almost any other activity. And often we double-task too.
The Natural Resources Defense Council report says our wasteful eating habits result in $165 billion lost per year. That also accounts for the one quarter of all freshwater consumed in the U.S., and for the 23 percent of methane, which as a greenhouse gas, has an enormous impact on our climate and weather.
The report, of course, dwells on that utopian technicality when it proposes that a 15 percent reduction in such losses in the U.S. food supply would be enough to feed 25 million of those Americans who’re currently starving. But, as we all know, things don’t happen that way, since we’re the first ones to fight for our right to dispose of our uneaten food as we damn please.
Our leftovers are the largest component of solid waste in landfills because they’re often heavily packaged in plastic bags, and almost never allowed to decompose back into the soil. We know, you may be thinking, now who’s being utopian? But the fact is that we don’t recycle organic matter as well as we already do with paper and metal, which have a higher commercial value.
Throughout the country, food banks and soup kitchens are ill-equipped to deal with the increased surge of famish families, and most are actually registering a drop in donations. The reasons are many but, despite the fact that we’d like to think that we’re a caring and god-fearing people, most of us wouldn’t walk an extra block with the sole purpose of donating leftovers.
THE 10 THAT FEED THE WORLD
The Convergence Alimentaire graph above shows a phenomenon of modern times: in the past 40 years, food companies consolidated so much, that now less than a dozen of them produce pretty much all the brand food consumed in the world. The same thing happened to many other industries, of course, including banks and financial concerns, and media conglomerates.
The consequences of a world dominated by fewer mega-giants, producing everything anyone will ever need, from baby diapers, to, well, senior citizen diapers, are not hard to gauge: as they get bigger, their products are ever more uniformed, and regional differences tend to be erased in the process.
They also become more powerful and insulated to country regulations, and consumers need to form really big alliances around a few common interests and demands, in order to be barely heard. As these community-driven alliances struggle to find common ground, companies have the muscle to sway legislation and prevent scrutiny about their practices.
To have an idea of what kind of power such corporations already have, and how easy it is for them to exercise their dominance, just ask yourself, today, how many of those brands, or their variables, have you consumed today? Then, it’s just a matter of multiplying that for a few billion, give and take, and you know how many literally open mouths they have in their hands.
SECONDS TO NO ONE
Your own choice of what you eat is of course a private matter. But that doesn’t mean that it has no consequences to the world at large. Since eating well comes from understanding what we should or should not eat, education plays a big role in your choices. In society, it’s also one of the pillars of the discussion over obesity and poverty.
The photographs by Stefen Chow used on this post, are part of a visual essay on Poverty Line, that he and economist Lin Hui-Yi put together. Each picture ‘represents the amount of food equal to the daily income of someone living on the poverty line of a particular country,’ as PSFK’s writer Kyanna Gordon put it.
The food items, based on the U.N.’s $1 per person per day metrics, are placed on newspapers of different countries, that also serve as a narrative about that particular culture. Now if we only could understand a few more languages. Just as they are, though, they offer an interesting meditation on the nature of choice and global social inequalities.
To set you off with a better taste in your mouth, it’s good to keep in mind that the way we eat, more than many other personal choices, can always help us leave our mark in the world. It’s an ancient concept that we’re are what we eat. Since we’re already lucky enough to even think about that, to do something about it shouldn’t be too far.
In the world today, there are probably eight people, out of each group of 10, who have absolutely no control over what they’ll eat next, or even when their next meal will come their way. It may be a small part of the privilege of being in the minority to exercise restrain and learn about better eating habits.
Fishermen have been around since ancient times, so there may be some sense to what they say: the fish dies by their own mouth. For a long time, we used to think that it meant that we should be careful about what we say. That may be so, but now we certainly know of another, more literal meaning to it.
* (Not) Nice to Meat You
* What’s for Dinner?
* Spoiled Dinner