If we’re going to take the problem of climate change seriously, the simplest thing we can do is become more efficient in our energy use. Each of us need to use less than we do now. How? One way is to turn off the lights if you leave a room. Another way might be to lower your thermostat in the winter a degree or two, and raise it in the summer one or two notches. Replacing aging electronics, appliances, and automobiles with newer, more energy/fuel efficient products also can make a dent.
Food is energy too. It comes from the sun. (All energy, when you get right down to it, comes from the sun; we are stardust, after all.) Eating less food provides the human body less energy, which is why it is the most potent strategy for children and adults who desire to lose weight. As we’ve seen previously on The PediaBlog, childhood and adult obesity is a global public health epidemic. However, food insecurity and outright malnutrition and starvation are also stubborn, persistent public health concerns, both here in the U.S. and abroad. The rules affecting both overnutrition and undernutrition are not based simply upon supply and demand; instead, the distribution of food determines who eats and who doesn’t. In fact, Melanie Hingle tells us supply is not the problem at all, based on the amount of food people waste:
Americans waste almost one-third of the total food supply – a staggering 133 billion pounds of edible food annually. This waste has far-reaching economic and environmental impacts – roughly translating to 2 million calories thrown away per household, the equivalent of $1,500 per year.
At the same time, one in six Americans is food insecure, meaning they are without adequate access to safe and nutritious food. It is estimated that a reduction in household food waste by 15 percent would save enough food to feed 25 million people.
Food spills. It spoils. It is scraped off plates into trash bags. It becomes leftover meals and snacks that never get eaten — adding up to 1,160 pounds (1.2 million calories) bought and left uneaten for a typical American family of four every year. Elizabeth Royte says the problem of food waste is a global one, where 30% of the food grown is never eaten:
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which keeps tabs on what’s grown and eaten around the globe, estimates that one-third of food produced for human consumption worldwide is annually lost or wasted along the chain that stretches from farms to processing plants, marketplaces, retailers, food-service operations, and our collective kitchens.
At 2.8 trillion pounds, that’s enough sustenance to feed three billion people. In the United States, the waste is even more egregious: More than 30 percent of our food, valued at $162 billion annually, isn’t eaten. Pile all that food on a football field and the layers would form a putrefying casserole miles high.
Natural Resources Defense Council explains why wasting food “from farm to fork to landfill” is an environmental issue in which its solution will help mitigate the effects of global climate change:
Food is simply too good to waste. Even the most sustainably farmed food does us no good if the food is never eaten. Getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all of that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions.
Methane — a.k.a. natural gas — is a greenhouse gas which is 80 times more potent in the short term than CO2. Ron Nixon describes why this is important when considering climate change:
Food waste is not only a social cost, but it contributes to growing environmental problems like climate change, experts say, with the production of food consuming vast quantities of water, fertilizer and land. The fuel that is burned to process, refrigerate and transport it also adds to the environmental cost.
Most food waste is thrown away in landfills, where it decomposes and emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Globally, it creates 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, about 7 percent of the total emissions, according to the report.
Tomorrow we’ll look at ways to waste less food, feed more people, and perhaps save the planet.