Food Waste

In our previous articles, we have talked about earning and spending (i.e. consuming). This time, we will focus on waste, food waste in particular. The leftover we stop or do not consume is either donated (to our dogs, cats, pokemons?… hardly to any human), or most of the time, thrown away in the garbage bin. Food waste, in short, is the food that is not consumed or shared.

So what? Well, Economics says it is bad. Actually, there is nothing positive about wasting food. Here is something you ought to know. At the post-harvest or processing stages, food loss is inevitable due to the strict quality standard (so you do not get sick consuming the final products), or other unexplained factors that are difficult to account for. Still, it is always better if the amount of waste can be reduced.

However, I am not going to discuss about the waste resulting from the supply side. I am more interested in food waste in the demand side of the economy. In other words, I am talking about you and I wasting food. It is estimated that around half of all the food produced is wasted worldwide (2013), and 40% of the waste occurs at the retail and consumer levels. That is a lot. That is almost enough to feed another earth, and yet, millions of people are suffering from chronic hunger (that means you wake up hungry, go to work hungry, and go to sleep hungry).

How much food have you wasted? People like to put plenty on their plate (and sometimes too much), and end up wasting it. They like to stock up their food supply and store them. Preserved food is okay because they can be kept for a long time, but perishable food (like meat and veggies) will be disposed of much much sooner. Sometimes, it is hard to blame anyone, but that does not mean that a change is not needed. Wasting food, in any form at all, is bad at many levels.

Now this is what I want to emphasize, the negative economic effects of wasting food. The apparent impact is that the food is wasted. Yes, wasting, per se, is bad. You waste your money buying the unconsumed food. Technically, in economic sense, the money is not wasted (we already talked about this). Someone will get paid. However, this is not a win-win practice. Haven’t we discussed about opportunity cost? You could have used the money for something else. You could have saved, invested, or loaned it. Then again, you might think $4 on a wasted McDonald’s burger is negligible, but if you waste every day, then the accumulated amount will be huge! You might be able to buy a house with it. That is just an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.

We do not have infinite food because it is limited by how much we can produce each year, how much resources we have, how much land (arable land) we have, how many farmers we have, etc. Think of it this way. If there are only 2 apples and two people, A and B, in this world, if A consumes an apple and throw the other apple away, then B will get nothing. B will die. Yes, we die if we don’t eat. So when we expand this concept to a much larger scale, it still holds true. Though it is not as obvious (since the world is too large, and mass production tricks us into thinking that we have unlimited supply of food), it only requires a little bit of thinking to realize that there really are As and Bs in real world. Of course, when we buy an apple, in reality, there are still so many left for the others to buy. So we do not really see the direct impact. However, buying entails a problem. Buying is pretty much demanding. When there is a demand for something, that something will have value. The more it is demanded, the higher the value it receives. So when people demand (buy) food, food price simply rises. This is fine until they buy too much for themselves (end up wasting the food), and as a result, they are indirectly increasing the food price for everyone else. We might not feel it, but the most vulnerable people (poor people) certainly will. Since 40% of the wasted food is from retailers/consumers, the increase in price should not just be something I imagine. Another problem is at the end of the production chain, which is pretty much about dumping the waste. It is costly, economically and environmentally. Of course, the food itself is not much of a problem because it is mostly compostable. The problem lies in its packages, boxes and so forth. When you think about it, box is made from paper, and where do you get paper? Tree. Yep, so we are simultaneously raising demand for logging, raising prices of other products (since their price also includes the cost of packaging, boxing…).

We are in the 40%, so we should (must) change. Change the habit. Be efficient. Earth may have enough for us to eat and waste, but this is not about the earth. This is not about YOLO either. This is about solving food crisis, something that should not happen providing the resources endowed to us by the nature. The “new normal” should not be food crisis, the “new normal” should be food abundance.

A tiny contribution towards development is much better than a small contribution to degradation. So roll up your sleeves, and start eating efficiently.


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