Food waste an important factor in sustainable food systems

America has a stigma of being a gluttonous country. We supersize everything. Our meals are served on Texas-sized plates. Food is served on every street corner. And the often ignored problem is the dumpsters of leftovers hidden in back alleys. Even in our own homes, we cook more than we can eat. We forget to consume leftovers before they perish. And we often overestimate how quickly we can eat produce, leaving wilting lettuce in the refrigerator that often ends up in the trash.

On the flip side, one in eight Americans goes to bed hungry each night, and one in four children. This is heartbreaking considering the abundance of food we have in this country!

To make matters worse, it’s been estimated that nearly half of all the food produced around the world goes to waste; that’s 2 billion tons of food not being utilized!

A recent survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation revealed that many Americans don’t realize they are contributing to this food waste problem; in the survey, 30% said they don’t create any food waste.

According to Laura Kubitz and Matt Raymond for Food Insight, “Of the remainder who admit that they do contribute to food waste, the top causes include forgetting about perishable food until it’s too late (19%), purchasing too much fresh or perishable food (17%), cooking big meals and throwing some of it away (8%), and not eating everything they put on their plate (7%).

“However, the majority of Americans say they’re taking steps to reduce food waste. For example, more than half of Americans report that they take leftovers home from restaurants (58%), using leftovers from cooking (53%), planning their meals (51%), and making shopping lists (51%), while 47% say they use or freeze leftovers in a timely manner.”

The survey also asked respondents about ways to ensure all people have access to healthy food, and the buzz word “sustainability” was mentioned by 73% of respondents, although the definition of sustainability varied greatly.

Kubitz and Raymond report, “While about three-quarters (73%) believe it’s important that food products be produced in a sustainable way, their definitions of sustainability are across the board. These definitions of sustainability include conserving the natural habitat (44%), reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food (43%), ensuring an affordable food supply (37%), and ensuring a sufficient food supply for the growing global population (35%). Despite this interest in sustainability, American are split on whether they would pay more for sustainable food and beverage products. Little more than one-third (38%) state they are willing to pay more for food and beverages that are produced sustainably.

“When asked about the role of agriculture, 70% say that they see modern agriculture as having at least a small role in ensuring that all people have access to healthy food; nearly half (47%) agree that modern tools, equipment and technologies in agriculture are sustainable; and more than one in two Americans say that modern agriculture produces nutritious (56%), safe (53%), high-quality foods (51%).”

To read the entire article and view additional findings from the study, click here.

I missed writing about this important topic on World Food Day, which was Oct. 16, but I think conversations about food use, food waste and providing food to the hungry around the world needs to happen more than one day out of the year. The role food producers can have in the conversation is talking about modern food production methods and how they efficiently and safely enable us to grow more using fewer resources.

In particular, the beef industry has a great sustainability story to tell, and it would behoove us to talk about how this protein choice is a great one for consumers to consider, from a nutritional, ethical and environmental standpoint.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

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