Global food: Waste not, want not

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That was the title of a talk given Wednesday morning by Tim Fox, head of Energy and Environment for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the United Kingdom. He was a featured keynote speaker during the International Food and Agriculture Marketing Association annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga.

Fox provided highlights from a recent report of the same name, which sheds new light on how much additional food we really need in the 21st Century.

“With the knowledge we have today in the engineering practice community, we can meet many of the challenges facing us now,” says Fox.

The solutions, in large part, lie in minimizing food waste, both in developed countries as well as emerging/developing countries. Do the basic math: If we can feed 6 billion people on 2 to 2.8 billion tons of food, we should be able to feed 9 to 10 billion people on a little more than 4 billion tons. If we’re presently wasting 30 to 50 percent of the food we produce, and we identify ways to minimize that loss, not only can we feed more people on what is already being produced, but we can radically reduce pressure on water, energy and land-use as well.

“The cascading demand on energy associated with the water and food that is wasted has an enormous impact,” asserts Fox.

Food loss is happening in developing and emerging economies due to poor harvesting techniques, inadequately engineered storage and transportation infrastructure. In fact, Fox says 40 percent of losses are a result of poorly engineered storage (21 million tons of wheat annually in India and 3.2 million tons annually in Pakistan).

In developed countries with “mature” economies, it’s a mentally of excess:

  • Retailer practices encourage over-purchasing (think Costco and Sam’s Club).
  • Supermarket contracts (and most consumers) require cosmetic perfection.
  • Consumer behavior in the home and marketplace (think how much food is thrown out in homes because consumers don’t cook as much, nor do they know what to do with leftovers.
  • Hospitality industry procurement practices of serving too much food. (Fox says, “During lunch yesterday, at least 40 percent of the food we were served went back to the kitchen as waste.”)

Obviously, these are “fixable” problems, but they require dramatic shifts in consumer attitudes, buying habits and behaviors. In developed economies, we need to “reconnect with the value of food,” says Fox.

“This is not rocket science,” he adds. “In terms of developing/emerging nations, we need to facilitate a clean technology ‘leapfrog’ over the resource-hungry unsustainable phase of industrialization, to avoid our previous failures and mistakes.

“Reducing food wastage and losses could significantly help meet the challenges of food security for 9.5 billion people by the late 21st century,” he says.

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Lazy Brown Dog    
NC  |  June, 20, 2013 at 09:02 AM

So then, Fox is suggesting we must somehow "leapfrog" back to the warm fuzzy days of subsistence farming, lovingly carried out by a majority population of ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed peasant farmers? And we must return to the rollicking days of tedious unrelenting cottage industry when manufactured goods were scarce, indeed, and so very very coveted those few treats were consumed with the very utmost caution. Not so much waste that way, to be sure! And back in those blissful days you couldn't blemish a piece of fruit or sour a shank of meat sufficiently to prevent it being consumed -- that's what made the spice trade such a success, after all. Now all that was the very model of efficiency we must adopt! OK, you first Mr. Fox. You first. Just pull on your yeoman's smock, take a parsimonious meal of salted mutton, take up your hoe and start chopping. Show us how it is to be done instead of wasting time lecturing us, OK?

June, 20, 2013 at 10:56 AM

"presently wasting 30 to 50 percent of the food we produce' I don't believe Mr. Fox said we need to jump back to subsistence farming in order to feed the growing population, but perhaps quit wasting that 30-50%. Real changes that would have real impacts include: -Reduce waste and the wasteful American lifestyle -Improve distribution and availability of Food, not processed/subsidized/GMO 'Food like products' -Increase awareness of how food is produced and encourage individuals to take part by growing a percentage of their own food at home. You happy with Industrial Petro-chemical farming practices? Like Pesticides and GMOs? Great, you can have my share. I'll be out back in the garden, I find that it's quite efficient.

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