Half of the World's Food Is Trashed

L.A. Trash Can | Photo: lepetitsaboteur/Flickr/Creative Commons License

My roommate and I have a ritual that happens once every few months or so in front of our fridge. We go through each item stored inside, one at a time, and decide whether or not it can get tossed. (Invariably we end up coming across a number of things that neither of us remember buying, which means either one of us has a problem with alcohol, or the apartment houses the least frightening phantom around.) Needless to say, by the end of the ritual we generally have to dump a full bag of trash, and by dumping all that wasted food we feel like terrible, terrible people. Turns out, though, you're all terrible people too!

According to the new study from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, up to half of the world's food is thrown away.

That amounts to two billion tons of food a year. To give you another way of looking at it, the report shows that because of the amount of food wasted, the world is wasting -- and get ready for this number, because it's a doozy -- 1,452,946,287,969,816 gallons of water on crops that are never eaten.

(A brief aside: When you start throwing around numbers of that size, it's tough to really imagine what that all means. Just for kicks, seeing as the Big Mac weighs about half-a-pound, that means we throw away the equivalent of two trillion Big Macs a year.)

The point is, that's a whole lot of food and a whole lot of water. And certainly if we could somehow find ways to actually utilize the food rather than simply throwing it out, we would be able to drastically lower the incidence of starvation in the world. So, where does all this food trashing occur?

The bulk of the problems are due to poor infrastructure and the facilities storing the food, problems that generally occur in developing countries. They don't have the proper trucks to ship the crops, or the refrigeration facilities are poorly maintained, leading to the spoiling of the aforementioned billion upon billion. But no, normal consumer not connected to the food industry or living in a developing country, this does not let you off the hook. The report also contains the phrase:

half of the food that is bought in Europe and the United States is thrown away by consumers

Which means it's time to find ways we can personally cut down on our own personal food-tossing-away. Here's a few tips from The Guardian:

1. Do not frequent the supermarkets.

If you buy fruit and veg from your local grocer you may well be able to get them in smaller quantities. If you buy them from a farmer, they may well be fresher.

2. Cook your own meals.

Some people think that if they buy ready meals they're wasting less food. They may be on an individual basis, but they certainly aren't on a wider one. The waste involved in ready meal production, through trimmings, rejected meat and vegetables, the almost eugenic quest for uniformity, far exceeds that of a few bananas you leave to go black.

3. Use-by dates are not gospel.

Evolution has given you clear and powerful senses that can help to determine if meat or produce has gone bad. Bear use-by dates in mind, of course, but you know from the smell of the milk if you shouldn't be drinking it.

And, for goodness sake, don't throw out leftovers. They're, like, fully-formed meals just waiting to be eaten later! Meanwhile, have any of your own tips to cut down on food waste? Feel free to spread the word in the comments below.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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