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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How much food did you waste today?

As I arrived at the Alltech meeting last week, one of the first people I met wanted to know what I was interested in learning about.  My response caught her off guard when I said that I try to come with an open mind.  I have tried to come with a vision of what I think I am going to learn and I always learn so much more and in a far different area than I ever dreamed, which brings me to my take aways from this year’s symposia. 

First, a few facts that I gathered during the meetings:

We live in a world of food extremes.  In the United States, there are more people battling obesity every day while there are 805 million people around the world that don’t get enough food to lead a healthy, active lifestyle.  Think about that.  One out of every 9 people doesn’t have enough food.

Hunger and malnutrition is the number 1 killer in the world. 

Nutrition is the cornerstone that affects the health and wellbeing of all people, rich and poor. 

And while there are those starving around the world, affluent consumers are much more empowered when it comes to food purchases.  They want food that is tastier, juicer, and healthier, but above all they want a consistent product. 

As farmers, we are hearing a lot about how the world’s population  growing and the challenge to feed a population of 9 billion by 2050.  But what about all the food that is wasted?

Dan Glickman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, shared that 38-40% of all food that is grown is wasted:
                                20% is meat and dairy
                                20% is oilseeds
                                30% is cereal grains
                                30% is fruits and vegetables.

The true cost of food waste is high.  Food shortages leave an undernourished population that often leads to political instability. 

Aidan Connolly of Alltech posed this question:

How can we increase shelf life to decrease food waste?

Walter Robb of Whole Foods stated that affluent consumers care more about values than price.  While the demand is growing for higher-end grocery stores like Whole Foods that demand organic and non-GMO products, where does that leave the 809 million around the world that are hungry? 

As I listened to Raymond McCauley of Singularity University, I felt more hope that we will be able to feed not only a planet growing in population, but also a population that is gaining wealth and demanding more protein and higher quality diets.  He talked of the use of genetically modified yeast to make a vanilla substitute in the lab and the possibility of producing cocoa in a bioreactor.  He talked of lots of things that were way above my scientific knowledge that has me excited about the future of science!

While I am not completely comfortable with a hamburger grown in a petri dish, I personally don’t see the science that makes me believe that organic/non-GMO is the only way to feed my family.  I believe the answer to feeding the world is somewhere in the middle of those two speakers that we presented one right after the other. 

Here are some questions that I had after listening to the speakers:

How can we improve shelf life?  Is it OK to improve shelf life with Genetically Modified Organisms  (GMO’s)?  How about irradiation?  Nitrates?  Nitrites?   

Why is it OK with affluent consumers to demand all farmers produce non-GMO and organic food when other practices achieve higher yields to feed the 809 million hungry around the world?  If they truly believe in values above price, why are they more important than other consumers?

Before we blame poor storage and infrastructure in developing countries for the food losses around the world, we need to look at ourselves first.  Sixty percent of the world's food losses occur in Europe and the United States.  What can we do to decrease food waste?  Each and every one of us can do better.

My friend Janeal, Meat Counter Mom, has some great ideas on food waste  and why we in the U.S. and Europe can be choosy about our food.  I encourage you to read and try to implement a few ideas in her post. Want to take stopping food waste further?  How about Dr. Capper's suggestion of starting a "Pigswill Revolution"!

The Alltech meetings always make me think.  Has this post made you think about your food waste?  What can you change today to help?

-A Kansas Farm Mom

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