Food Waste and Food Security in the United States: What Can Be Done?

Reshaping global governance: who governs? The role of Latin America in the G-20
December 30, 2017
Call for Applications | Editorial Assistant of the IAPSS Journals
January 31, 2018
Show all

Food Waste and Food Security in the United States: What Can Be Done?

In 2016, Global Finance Magazine ranked the United States as the country with the most important gross domestic product in the world. And in Cap Gemini’s World Wealth Report 2017, we can find that the United States’ High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs, individuals earning on annual income of at least $100,000) increased by 7.6% and that their wealth increased by 7.8%. Today, HNWIs in America amount to 4.8 million people and their combined wealth comes up to 16.83 trillion US dollars. In spite of that abundance, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service showed that in 2016, 12.3% of American households suffered from food insecurity —meaning that 12.3% of Americans had « limited or uncertain access to adequate food. » Additionally, 4.9% of American households had to survive with a very low food security.” In total, 41.2 million Americans are food insecure. After learning about these numbers, one question comes to mind: how is food insecurity possible in a country as rich and developed as the United States?

First of all, let’s have an overview of food waste on a greater scale. Each year, almost one third of the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted, including 222 million tons of food in industrialized countries, costing 680 billion US dollars. These numbers illustrate the terrible example that is set on a global scale and unfortunately repeated at a regional and national level. In North America alone, the average person wastes almost 300 kg of food per year. Focusing on the United States, we can see that each year an average family of four wastes food with a value of nearly $1,500. Plus, 30 to 40 percent of the American food supply goes to waste. These numbers are thus an indicative of a wastefulness that is common across occidental countries. But what initiatives are being put in place in order to improve on that front?

In March 2016, the United Nations (UN) drafted Goal 12, a sustainable development initiative aiming for more « responsible consumption and production. » One of the program’s focal point concerns wasteful consumption and has a concrete goal of halving « the global food waste (per capita) at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses. » Concurrently, the United States called in 2015 « for a 50% reduction in food waste (…) by 2030 and announced a partnership with charities and private sector organizations to cut waste. » Such a partnership was illustrative of the traditional and close link between state and private non-profit organizations that is typical to America. One of the most active private organizations in the matter is the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The NRDC’s first line of work centers at the local level and aims to prevent the waste of edibles by collecting and redistributing them while trying to recycle as much as possible. The NRDC put in place an innovative pilot project in three different cities: Nashville, NYC and Denver, with the goal of finding out the quantity and the types of food that are wasted in each city. Complementary analyses are then found in another report entitled Modeling the Potential to Increase Food Rescue that explains ways to collect and distribute excess food to persons in need. The main point that comes out of the report’s conclusion is that additional food rescue within hospitality and healthcare sectors has the most potential the help reduce food insecurity. Ready-to-eat products that are used in those sectors are the foods that can be easily saved and efficiently redistributed. Indeed, this type of food « can be particularly useful to last-mile organizations such as homeless shelters, senior feeding programs and others that provide meal services, often to those who are most acutely food insecure. » In order to insure successful food rescue, I believe that non-profit organizations should be supported by the enforcement of new policies and regulations that would impose on restaurants, hotels and grocery stores (among others) to give away unsold products or food that cannot be served or sold to clients due to aesthetic reasons for example, instead of throwing them away. That way, non-profit organizations will have government support and vice-versa which gives more chance to the U.S.’ aim of reducing food insecurity to be successful.

Moreover, it is through on-the-ground innovative researches similar to the ones developed by the NRDC that solutions regarding food waste can be found. We might not have all the answers in hand, but it is clear that some of the best solutions to this global problem should (and probably will) be developed in the worst-offending areas of the globe.

Featured image: flickr.com

Marion Valentin
Marion Valentin is a cum laude graduate from La Sorbonne, where she received her master’s degree in English. She also graduated cum laude with a master’s degree in political science from the Catholic Institute of Higher Studies. Her research interests include the role of culture in the Cold War and use of French culture to combat ideological extremism within the francophone world. A lifelong traveler, she has lived in nine countries and four continents. She currently works as a full time teacher at the French Cultural Center of Boston.

Leave a Reply