Jesse Hirsch and Reyhan Harmanci have a tremendous article about food waste in the new Modern Farmer, which tells us that “Half the food in the last year was thrown out. One billion people are hungry. The next food revolution is about what you’re not eating”:
How are we going to feed 9 billion people by 2050? The answer to this question — or the lack thereof — is one of the biggest issues in agriculture today. Experts estimate that we need to grow 60 percent more food than we currently produce. And as a result, there is a push to constantly create more. More miracle crops. More monocultures. More monocrops. More seeds. More food.
But are we missing the point? Currently, in the U.S., almost half of our food — 40 percent of what we grow— ends up in the garbage. Globally, food waste is rising to 50 percent as developing nations struggle with spoilage and Western nations simply toss edible food away. Instead of turning our food system inside out to meet that 2050 deadline, why don’t we simply waste less?
Do the math. If we just get better about using the food we grow, we’re already almost a quarter of the way there.
We need to start somewhere. Let’s start at the farm.
Farm to Table to Landfill
In Hackettstown, New Jersey, vegetable farmer Greg Donaldson leads informal tours around his fields to show visitors a large rotting pile of mostly edible produce.
The pile is a hub for perfectly good cucumbers (bent), strawberries (overripe but delicious), tomatoes (small blemishes), peaches (bruised) and garlic (split cloves). Stalks of broccoli, ears of corn, full heads of lettuce, eggplants, pears: It’s a perverse cornucopia, left to decay in the sun. At the beginning of summer, the pile fits in a dumptruck bed; By fall, it needs multiple tractor-trailers to haul it away.The sight of so much wasted produce used to eat at Donaldson, make him feel bad. But he and other farmers have learned to live with it as part and parcel of being a farmer. According to the charity Feeding America, more than 6 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables go unharvested or unsold each year. It’s because much of the food on a farm falls victim to aesthetic trifles: the misshapen peach, the tomato too large to fit in a three-pack. Or in an uncertain economy, a farmer grows more than he market demands, then leaves entire fields and orchards unharvested. We are growing more food than we know what to do with.
And this early-stage waste is only the beginning. From transport to processor to retailer to consumer, food waste affects every step of the supply chain between farm and fork…
[continues at Modern Farmer]