Annually, Americans expend a massive amount of energy procuring, processing, packaging, transporting and preparing food that never gets eaten.
According to a few recent studies, caloric intake estimates for the average American exceeds 3700 calories per day. But in reality, that total is derived from the total amount of food produced divided by the population. According to some experts, almost 1000 of that per capita estimate is wasted calories–food we don’t eat.
One study, quoted on the popular tech and culture blog Boingboing.net , estimates that wasted food energy in the U.S. totals some 2150 trillion kilojoules per year–more than the U.S. could produce in ethanol (grain) biofuels.
Further, the same BB blog post quotes an article in the New Scientist asserting that this amount is greater than the energy produced annually from all the oil and gas extracted from the Gulf of Mexico.
That same NS article also notes that these estimates are most likely under-estimates, since they are based on USDA food-waste figures from 1995.
Given so many reports of people and especially children starving or dying from malnutrition, one might be tempted to villify the U.S. even more. But the reality is that global food production has increased steadily since 1961, and, according to the World Resources Institute, this food production has been greater than population growth (see chart below).
As always, human welfare challenges are more complex than they may seem at first. It is not that there is a shortage of food, or that what is wasted by the ‘haves’ is being taken away from the ‘have nots’, rather, there is unequal distribution of, and access to, the world’s food. And given this, our wasted food energy is simply reckless. It also translates into carbon emissions that need not have been made to begin with.
Also, there is a clear divide on this planet: those that are “food secure” and those that are “food insecure”. Food security–achieving food security for the world’s poorest–is one of the UN’s Millennium Challenge goals. As reported in my June 2010 blog post on planetsave.com, this Millennium goal will not be met.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are over 100 million food insecure people (those with persistent inability to satisfy their basic food/caloric intake requirements), most of who are found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southeast Asia. But there are many times more who are chronically hungry, and nearly 2 billion who are intermittently hungry. The FAO also estimates that world food production will have to increase by 70% to provide stable food security to this population–a population that will grow larger as climate change impacts (droughts, floods, pestilence, plagues) on agriculture increase.
One way to mitigate the effects on agriculture from atmospheric GHG build ups (and consequent warming, climate change) may be to intensify agricultural production. See my earlier article here.
photo: Wheat (close up), Bluemoose on wikipedia.org, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
chart: WRI / FAO
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.