Two Billion Tons

What many of us missed in the news last month: in an AFP report from London, two billion tons of food (roughly half of all the food produced in the world) is thrown away every year.  To give some sense of perspective to how much food we’re wasting, two billion tons is the annual increase of carbon dioxide absorbed by the world’s oceans every year.  Globally, we produce a little over two billion tons of iron ore a year.  A big contributor to food waste: ugly food and vegetables.  Maybe the apples aren’t perfectly proportioned enough, or that there are a few blemishes in the cabbage.  Our preoccupation with perfect-looking food contributes to the 725,742 Olympic-sized swimming pools we fill with wasted food every year.

It’s easy – and correct – to pin the blame squarely on commercialism, on consumerist thinking, on the excesses and wastefulness of the modern way of life.  A company like Krispy Kreme, for example, won’t serve or save a misshapen doughnut: they would throw it away (which is probably the same case for other fastfood chains like McDonald’s or KFC or something).  More than that, however, I think that our choices in food also require some rethinking.

I think that while modern society allows quite a number of us to eat enough food, we’re not sustaining the consumption and production of our food well enough.  Most of the food we like to eat require so much energy to produce.  The average bucket of fried chicken, for example, requires so much in the way of feed and nutrients for a cooped-up fowl to just be cut up, dredged in flour (think of the fuel used in combines, the cost of fertilizer and fertilizing, and transporting processed wheat products), and fried (think of oil, think of fuel, heck think of workers’ wages).  I’m not saying that we should stop eating fried chicken altogether and reduce our environmental and social footprints, but all the waste products in that long, unsustainable chain of things all add up to the hundreds of thousands of swimming pools we fill with wasted food.

We’re all more or less guilty of unsustainable eating practices, but I am of the belief that it can be reversed.  Food costs can be reduced – and thus distributed to more people without waste – if we start consuming, growing, and sustaining our own indigenous products.  The solution I have in mind won’t eliminate two billion tons of food from the global waste basket, but it does help in two ways:

  • By experimenting with food and using local ingredients sourced from farmers and workers who benefit from proper wages and land reform, we improve the diversity of our own culinary catalog and stop being the world’s standard reference for eating fertilized duck eggs.
  • By experimenting with food and using local ingredients sourced from farmers and workers who benefit from proper wages and land reform, we can help reduce the amount of food waste we throw away because we all consume as much of the food as we can, and produce enough nutritious food that even the poorest and hungriest of us can afford.

Yup, experimenting with food.  Using local ingredients.  Workers with proper wages, farmers who benefit from adequate and just land reform.  Basically, the suggestion is a concerted effort by society to produce more food, to combat the problem of wasting too much food.

Our penchant for salmon nigiri, for example, can be reduced by using local fish and indigenous rice varieties, like say, black rice.  Or overly-expensive tonkatsu places or ramen restaurants may have alternatives in smaller neighborhood eateries, or that even imperfect or discarded ingredients are allowed in the kitchen and cooked along with the dish with the due skills of a skilled cook, and reduce the total cost of having a bowl.  Take apple cores or orange peels, or heck, offal, chicken trimmings, carcasses.

Or something as simple as eating out less, and cooking at home more.  Or something as complex as putting a moratorium on condominium construction in Metro Manila to make way for public spaces where, instead of sending squatters over to faraway Rizal for relocation, they may be allowed to stay in their dwellings and improve them, provided that they could run a community-owned garden and market for everything from seedlings to orchids to food.  Like what South Central Farm was supposed to be.

I’m not saying that a concerted effort by society to produce accessible, affordable, nutritious food and taking steps towards sustainable agriculture is going to eliminate two billion tons of food waste.  It won’t: waste will always be a part of production.  What I’m saying is that if we’re throwing away two billion tons of perfectly edible food every year, and still have problems feeding the world in the process, the problem is not just in what we eat and how we eat.  It’s where other people figure in our own food chain: if what we eat and how we eat affects what others eat, if they eat at all.

Because if we waste two billion tons of food and perhaps a few billion people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition, one does not need to merely imagine the injustice that is in there.

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