Food–a daily sustenance necessary for survival that comes in a variety of different forms and flavors. Usually, when people think about food, their thoughts are centered around taste and dietary necessities. However, food’s place in society goes beyond choosing a meal at a restaurant or buying groceries at the supermarket. One piece of evidence for the integration of food into everyday life is the presence of food phrases such as “cool as a cucumber,” “piece of cake,” and “egg on.” Additionally, food is present at most major life events (such as birthdays, funerals, weddings, and holidays) alludes to the idea that humans think about food at more than just mealtime (Stajcic).
Food has become about more than just survival and is now integrated into culture and relationships. As human beings, our first relationship is formed through the bottle, or the breast as a mother feeds her infant (Wilk qtd. In “Food-Food and Culture”). While human growth continues from an infant into a child and from a child to an adult, our relationship with food also continues to develop. Food choice has changed from being mainly about survival to having choice and preferences in the food that is eaten. Food goes beyond simply making choices about what to eat in most cultures, representing psychological, anthropological, and sociological aspects of culture. Jennifer Lee explains that “what you want to cook and eat is an accumulation, a function of your experiences — the people you’ve dated, what you’ve learned, where you’ve gone. There may be inbound elements from other cultures, but you’ll always eat things that mean something to you” (qtd. In Choi). Food culture develops through one’s heritage, religion, and personal background and experiences: Religion can shape food choices through creating restrictions and practices, and by helping shape how food is viewed, such as with the presence of sacred foods. Food can also foster a connection between immigrants and their native heritage. For example, my family makes Swedish rye bread every Christmas to feel more connected to our Swedish background.
This connection and homeland sentimentality with our ancestors also increases consumer willingness to pay more for products: “In one study, consumers were often willing to pay more for culturally significant crops despite the availability of less-expensive nutritional equivalents” (“The Human Food Connection: A New Study Reveals More About Our Relationship To Food”). Consumers are willing to pay more because they see food that reminds them of where they came from and of memories and stories of their homeland. Equivalent products simply cannot match the sentimentality and history that comes with food from culturally significant crops. Lastly, one’s personal history can affect food choices. Comfort foods for most adults come from positive memories one has during their childhoods. Additionally, people may choose to avoid certain foods because of ties to negative times and experiences during their lifetime. While food is a reflection of one’s culture and helps one feel connected to their past, food can also help to shape current and future relationships. The sharing of food for meetings, dates, family gatherings, holiday gifts all show the power that food can have in bringing people closer together. Food has evolved to be at humanity’s center of culture, relationships, memories, and history.
Another part of what has made life so centralized on food is its production. So much goes into that box of cereal at the grocery store or that home-cooked meal of steak and potatoes. Agriculture has been around for the last 13,000 years and has been fully established for the last 7000 years. Farming allowed humans to settle down, form civilizations, and give people more time since they were no longer focused on hunting and gathering. With the rise of civilizations came the rise of political and religious leaders and thus the formation of classes and issues involving land, social inequality, and malnutrition (History of Agriculture). Today, farming is more efficient than ever due to technological advances: “In 1935, there were 6.8 million farms in the United States, and the average farmer produced enough food each year to feed 20 people. In 2002, the number of farms was estimated to be 2.16 million, and the average U.S. farmer produced enough food to feed almost 130 people” (Background on Agricultural Practices and Food Technologies). With this increased efficiency, food prices have decreased, helping make food more affordable. Additionally, with the addition of newer technologies, such as transportation and refrigeration, people have no longer have to live within close proximity of farms, continuing the growth of cities. However, this has separated the farmer, food production, and the consumer, since many consumers fail to see most parts of food production. At the farm, crops go through eight stages throughout its production: crop Selection, land preparation, seed selection, seed sowing, irrigation, crop growth, fertilization, and harvesting (“Farming Life Cycle”). Meanwhile, animal production includes the growth and feeding of the animals and their eventual slaughter. Once crops and animals have left farms, their journey is not quite yet over. From there, they still have final preparation for consumption, which can include preserving, baking, pasteurizing, pudding, carving, butchers, fermenting, pickling, drink and candy makers, or being made in a restaurant (“Food Production”). For the production of food that consumers see on a daily basis, a large investment of resources, time, and energy is required.
While food may be an integral part of survival, culture, and society as a whole, and food represents a large investment in resources, food waste has become more common. In 2007 alone, 1.3 million tons of edible food was wasted (“Food Wastage Footprint Impact on Natural Sources”). Additionally, in one study on food waste based in several cities in the United States, researchers found that 68% of the food that they had seen wasted from residencies was edible (“Food Matters: What Food We Waste and How We Can Expand the Amount of Food Rescued”). Waste typically comes from initial excess food or inefficiency in the processes used to prepare foods, such as boiling, canning, juicing, and pasteurization. Factors for waste can also include not planning when going grocery shopping, not saving the leftovers, making errors during processing and processing itself, having difficulty in harvesting and storing crops, focusing on expiration and sell-by dates, and buying only blemish-free food among other factors (“Causes, Effects, and Solutions of Food Waste”). Additionally, in the United States, food waste may be caused by low food costs; this is likely due to subsidiaries, and the cultural desire for perfect and unblemished food. As one article described, “vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards” (Chandler). The cosmetic desire for “perfect” food may come from the belief that unblemished food is healthier and purer. Additionally, the desire for cosmetic food represents an interesting dilemma because while most food waste issues come from issues in food planning and production, cosmetic desire is mostly a social desire. For the United States alone, 30-40% of food is wasted with 50% of the waste coming from consumers. However, part of the blame from consumers may come from marketers and producers who cause consumers to more and more purchase products which can lead to more waste (Mourad). One example of this is the placing essential items in the back of the store so that a customer has to walk all the way to through the store and may find unessential items to buy on their way to get what they originally came for. Food waste can also represent a social justice issue with the distribution of resources as the FAO has stated: “On the other hand, rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) annually as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)” (FAO). Currently, there are around 800 million people in the world who go hungry. Part of this issue stems from how food is distributed. With humanitarian efforts to feed the hungry and some beginning to worry about food resources available with population growth, humanity is beginning to look more for solutions to deal with food waste and distribution.
Ways to Reduce Food Waste and Why Reducing Food Waste is Important
With almost 2 million tons of food is wasted annually and around 800 million people in the world going hungry, people have begun to come up with solutions to help reduce hunger and reduce food waste. Currently, solutions follow a wide range of different ideas which can include changing legislation, feeding food waste to animals, selling blemished food at lower costs, composting and redistributing food to those who need it. In 2016, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food and the unsold food waste must be donated to food banks and charities by forcing large grocery stores to pay a fine if they do not donate their food. Additionally, the French laws also now ban supermarkets from intentionally spoiling food to dissuade those who forage the stores’ garbage bins (Chrisafis). By this having legislation, France becomes an example for other countries on food waste reduction and helps to begin momentum in food waste reduction, not just for other countries but for other steps in food production. Additionally, by having food banks and charities have donations from the supermarket, they ensure a steady quantity of donations and that their donations are quality donations of fruits, vegetables, and meats (How France Became a Global Leader in Curbing Food Waste). As previously mentioned, consumers and consequentially producers tend to be fairly choosy with their products being “perfect” and blemish free. However, with as much waste as the desire for cosmetically pleasing produce causes, some producer having begun to incentivize choosing food with blemishes in order to reduce waste. One such company is Imperfect Produce which delivers food that would normally be rejected by grocery stores for a 30% reduction in cost. So far, the company has been fairly successful with 40 million pounds. With this incentivization from this company and others like it, hopefully, stigmatism around foods that do not fit cosmetic standards will disappear and imperfect foods will become a normal part of diets which will help to reduce the 20 billion pounds of produce wasted annually (“Imperfect Produce”). Waste can be considered a social construct since one considers waste as what they do not have a use for.
However, one person’s food waste could be another person’s meal, food for livestock, or the source of fertilizer for their crops. Currently, a third of the total farmland is used to grow animal food and the movement, processing, and distribution of the food accounts for 45% of the sector’s total emissions (Gillman). With this solution, farmers could use crops that otherwise go to waste in order to feed farm animals and grocery stores could donate a portion of their unsold food to farms. By giving animals food waste that will work with their diets, this will help lower municipal solid food waste. Additionally, it will reduce the amount of land needed to provide for animal food, which can help to reduce deforestation and habitat degradation that may be needed to grow and process animal feed. Lastly, having animals eat food waste will allow for more crops to be able to be used by people, helping to alleviate some the worries about hunger and providing enough food for the ever-growing human population. Composting helps reduce the amount of food that may contribute to municipal solid waste, but also uses the food waste in a way that is beneficial for various environmental aspects; it combines organic waste such as yard trimmings and food waste, along with bulking agents such as wood chips in a way that that the waste breaks and eventually becomes a nutrient-rich soil conditioner that can be used similarly to fertilizer. Composting benefits include replacing potentially harmful chemical fertilizers, reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by organic waste in landfills, helping to restore soils impacted by habitat degradation, and improving water retention in soils (Reducing the Impact of Wasted Food by Feeding the Soil and Composting). To reduce food waste, composting could be done fairly easily with food that would have otherwise been wasted any level of food production, composting information is available on the internet. Especially for consumers with enough space to compost, it can be a fairly effective method for reducing food waste since they can do it within their homes. According to one s
tudy, as long as composting is done aerobically, it has the least impact on the environment compared to other similar methods of getting rid of food waste, which included in-sink food processors, landfilling waste, and centralized composting which means the composting is done by composting centers (“Life Cycle Assessment of Food Waste Management Options”). As previously stated, composting reduces the need for fertilizers, providing a consumer incentive, as it helps eliminate the need for fertilizers for lawns and backyard gardening, helping reduce maintenance costs as well as possible pollutants. Lastly, food redistribution has become a powerful model in changing how food waste is handled. With food rescue programs, food is taken from places (such as grocery stores and restaurants) and is taken to places that can deliver them to people in need, such as churches and food banks. Currently, there is not a centralized model for food redistribution. Food rescue is dependent on non-profit organizations and some businesses (who depend on employees and volunteers), grocery stores, restaurants, universities, and other food distributors choosing to work with non-profit organizations.
One unique form of food rescue comes in the form of the app Zero Percent, which allows businesses to post donations to the app, then sending text alerts to food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters while also allowing businesses to receive tax deductions for their donations. Since its inception in 2013, Zero Percent has “distributed more than 1 million meals to almost 150 nonprofits in the Chicago area” (Gabriel). Food rescue programs have started to become more popular over recent years and are spreading into more and more cities across the United States and the rest of the world, which is helping to eliminate millions of pounds of food waste. These programs are important because they not only decrease food waste, but they also ensure that those who need the donated food will receive it. In order to reduce food waste overall, all levels of food production must come together to take the steps necessary to reduce food waste. At the production level, this can come from feeding food waste to animals. For distributors, this can come from allowing imperfect produce to be sold in their stores with incentives and having a no-waste policy in grocery stores and partnerships with food redistribution programs so that people who are in need of food can have a dependable source of quality food. Consumers meal-plan and buy only enough food for their needs as well as composting, volunteering through food rescue programs, and buying imperfect food. It will take time to reduce food waste, but if people band together, change will come.
Reducing food waste is important for not only helping to feed those in need but also for reducing the environmental impacts of food growth and food waste. Currently, the UN has a goal of ending world hunger by 2030 (“Zero Hunger”). By reducing food waste and focusing on the implementation of food redistribution, this goal could become a reality. As one article stated, “recovering just 25 percent of that wasted food could feed 870 million hungry people effectively ending world hunger” (“How France Became A Global Leader in Curbing Food Waste”). By allowing those who are hungry to have a viable source food, it allows them to focus on more than just trying to find their next meal, which can help them to be more successful in the future. As humanity looks towards the coming century, one of the biggest worries in the coming future is climate change. One of the biggest contributors to climate change is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to a study done by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food waste was the third largest carbon emitter behind China and the United States according to data taken in 2005. With decreased food waste, carbon dioxide emissions could also be reduced, helping mediate the possible effects of climate change. Another issue the world may face in the future is water shortages and issues related to access to clean water. Reducing food waste would also alleviate tension about water shortages since “the irrigation water used globally to grow food that is wasted would be enough for the domestic needs (at 200 liters per person per day) of 9 billion people – the number expected on the planet by 2050” (Pullen). Additionally, food production can lead to contamination of water with phosphates, nitrates, and chemicals, so reducing food waste could mitigate the amount of contaminants in the water. According to research, “unconsumed food accounts for approximately 1.4 billion hectares of land, constituting almost 1/3 of the planet’s agricultural land” (“Causes, Effects, and Solutions of Food Waste”). With this wasted land use, other areas are being used for agricultural. The new land for agricultural usually comes with habitat degradation and loss which has become an issue for biodiversity. Also, this need for new land can also cause issues of land ownership which can cause tension between different groups. Lastly, similarly to other environmental issues, the cost of inaction will cost more than the cost of working to reduce and reuse food waste. One study reported that “food waste may cost $165 billion dollars per year in the US” (Mourad). With all the benefits of reducing food waste, the next step is collective action toward a better future with reduced emissions, less cleared land, and the elimination of hunger.
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