Search the Site

With So Much Food, Why Do So Many People Go Hungry?

(Photo: petrr)

(Photo: petrr)

Writing for Foreign Policy, John Norris explores this question: why does hunger still kill “more people every year than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined” when one-third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted?

In the developing world, Norris writes, actual consumers waste little food:

Instead, much more of the food waste in the developing world comes further upstream in the production process.

Crops are inefficiently farmed with outdated tools, and often harvested early because farmers are under economic and climactic duress. To get meat, fruits, vegetables and fish to market in the developing world often means navigating lousy roads, using warehouses without proper refrigeration, facing greater vulnerability to pests, and any number of other factors that drive up spoilage and losses. A gallon of milk doesn’t last nearly as long when it is transported in a can that ends up sitting in the hot sun under a banana leaf.

It’s a different picture in the developed world:

But in Europe and North America the problem isn’t locusts, non-existent cold chains, or broken roads and bridges but how we perceive food and its use. For example, in the United State alone, grocery stores discard $10-15 billion in food that is close to its sell-by date or damaged. Yet, sell-by dates are something of a myth, and are designed to measure optimal quality rather than food safety. Most food is good well after the date by which many Americans view it as somehow becoming radioactive.

The pressure for “perfect looking” food also contributes to a great deal of discarded in more developed countries. Tristam Stuart, while researching the book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal visited a British carrot farm where he found that 25-30 percent of all carrots produced there were either discarded or used as animal feed because of aesthetic defects — they weren’t straight or orange enough to pass what someone’s idealized view of the perfect Peter Cottontail carrot should look like.