Waste Not, Want Not

This entry is part 7 of 20 in the series Spring - 2014

Waste Not, Want Not

By Tony Phifer

“The bottom line is that we are wasting almost as much as we consume. If we can change that behavior, we can better feed our population.”

shutterstock_160217780-carolan-3dThe solution to worldwide hunger, many believe, is simple: produce more food.

Michael Carolan has an easier fix: waste less food.

Carolan, head of Colorado State University’s Department of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts, has spent more than a decade studying food security and its role in feeding the world’s 7 billion-plus residents. And he keeps coming back to the same place.

“Everyone needs food, so everyone can relate to this issue,” said Carolan, who grew up in rural Iowa. “The bottom line is that we are wasting almost as much as we consume. If we can change that behavior, we can better feed our population.”

Carolan works with the South Korean government as a consultant on food waste. Studies there have concluded that 40 percent to 50 percent of that nation’s food is wasted.

And Korea is not alone. Large countries, small countries, rich countries, poor countries – all waste between 40 percent and 50 percent of their food. In richer countries, the waste usually comes late in the process – oversized portions simply thrown away, for example. In poorer countries with inadequate infrastructure, the waste usually comes earlier, during the transportation and storage process when fresh food needlessly spoils.

Carolan has written several books about food security and our attitudes about food. He said there are no easy solutions to solving food issues, but said simple changes in behavior – smaller plates at meals (the bigger the plate, the bigger the portions), no trays at buffets (trays encourage people to take more food than they need), and changing food-buying habits (studies have shown that “buy one, get one” offers lead to waste) – can make a significant difference.

At the same time, Carolan said we need to change our attitudes about the food we produce. It’s easier and cheaper for American farmers to grow grains like wheat and corn than fresh fruits and vegetables, which is why produce prices rise faster than those of processed foods.

“The last thing we want is farmers going broke,” he said. “It’s all about changing policy.  We need to make it attractive for our farmers to produce a wider array of commodities so food – all food, and not just the processed stuff – can be affordable and accessible. Access to healthy food is a real concern as we continue into the 21st century, and it’s a problem we need to address.”

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