Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Food waste and world hunger

I’ve heard that the world produces enough food to feed everyone. Unfortunately there are 1 billion malnourished people in the world today (according to the UN World Food Programme). The following article presents a quick rough estimate of food waste and compares it with how much food might be needed for the world’s malnourished people.

It is estimated that the United States wastes about 100 billion pounds of food every year. If we were careful and well organized we could transfer the bulk of this wasted food to the world’s malnourished people. Now if we assume that the other industrialized countries such as Canada, Australia, Japan and the European nations produce wasted food at about the same rate as the United States then approximately 300 billion pounds of food would be wasted every year (the sum of these nations having about 3 times the population of the U.S.). This corresponds to about 150 billion kg of food (I prefer the metric system) each year. A person needs about 2000 calories of food per day, and a malnourished person who already has some food would probably need a supplement of an additional 1000 calories each per day (on average – just a guess). This corresponds to about 250 grams of food each day (assuming at least 4 calories per gram) or about 100 kg of food each year to raise a single malnourished person’s food intake to sensible levels. 150 billion kg of food each year could thus provide necessary food for about 1.5 billion malnourished people. As mentioned above there are about 1 billion malnourished people in the world today and 100,000 are dying each day. If we could recover, preserve and deliver just two thirds of all the food wasted in the industrialized world then we could probably eradicate world hunger and malnourishment and in the process save millions and millions of lives. At present it takes just 10 days or so for 1 million malnourished people to die.

We need an organized system to recover and preserve the industrialized world’s wasted food and to deliver it to the world’s poor and hungry. Furthermore, assisting poor regions to adopt more technologically advanced agricultural practices can also help alleviate world hunger.

Unfortunately much of this food is unrecoverable as the food spoils in our fridges and by that point it is too late to send it to someone in need. Ideas to help make good use of this is described in my book (featured with cover above).

Jacob Levman