Why tackling food waste should be a priority
Of course, the detriments of wasting food are clear. Food waste is financial loss (for people’s personal economic situation, at least). Environmentally, food waste means that more carbon is emitted and more water and fertiliser used. And ethically, food waste means that people continue to go without food, and more livestock is killed.
But the extent to which food waste has huge negative impacts is lesser-known, at least among the general public, and, in order to make an effective case as to why food waste should be a priority, we must correct this lack of knowledge.
Take this report by the HuffPost, corroborated by many other articles and scholarly sources. It suggests that food waste has an economic impact of roughly $850 trillion per year, and that a third of all food produced is wasted.
Indeed, each family is believed to waste around £700 per year as a result of food waste. I’m sure many of us would love an extra few hundred of whatever currency we use (though probably not the Venezuelan Lira, in fairness).
The environmental impact is perhaps the most important, at least in my view, of all of the problems caused by food waste. Roughly 8% of carbon emissions worldwide are caused by wasted food — both in landfill and in the agricultural process.
I would encourage reading the full HuffPost piece, because it poses many good solutions.
However, the ethical case has perhaps the greatest potency and potential for sparking action to tackle food waste.
As I mentioned before, there are two main branches of the ethical problem posed by food waste.
The first, and by far the most important, is that food waste is morally indefensible — at least to the extent which it currently occurs at — due to the sheer number of people who are malnourished all around the world.
462 million adults are underweight across the world, according to the World Health Organisation. A further 224 million children are undernourished. The vast majority of these people reside in poverty rather than suffering from anorexia, bulimia, or any other kind of eating disorder.
With these sorts of figures — roughly 10% of the world’s population being undernourished — food waste begins to look much worse, and the morality of our feeding into the problem becomes cloudier at best. At worst, our contribution to food waste is morally reprehensible and lamentable.
And that’s without even considering the practicalities of what might happen if everyone had adequate nutrition. I wrote about the flaws of the EAT-Lancet report a couple of weeks ago, noting that it fails to understand that, if everyone has enough food, the population will grow rapidly and uncontrollably.
In that light, I’m not suggesting that there is some way to ensure proper nutrition for these 700 million people if we stop wasting so much food. However, morality and ethical considerations are often equally important as the practical considerations, and it is in such a way that we must view the plague of food waste.
The case that food waste is entirely unethical due to livestock farming and animals losing their lives 'unnecessarily' — so to speak — may be more powerful and resonant with people, who will be vital in any mass movement against food waste. Vegans and vegetarians are an ever-growing group, and their support in particular will be incredibly important.
It is clear that food waste is criminal to the extent that it currently occurs. At no other point in our history has our wastage been so high, and the worrying upwards trend must be reversed.