The World Bank has been highlighting the fact that between a quarter and a third of the world’s food is lost or wasted.
The World Bank report indicates that 56% of food lost is lost in developed countries, and 44% in developing countries. That might seem like a fairly even split- until you realise that only one in seven of the world’s people live in developed countries- we each waste a lot more food than our brothers and sisters in the global south.
The report also gives us a helpful distinction between food that is ‘lost’ and food that is ‘wasted’.
Food loss is the bigger problem in developing countries, and “typically occurs at the production, storage, processing, distribution, and marketing stages of the food value chain. It is the unintended result of technical limitations or poor infrastructure.”
Food waste on the other hand, “typically takes place at the retail and consumption stages of the food value chain, the result of a conscious decision to throw food away.”
The problem is very different in different parts of the world. Our American cousins waste an astonishing 42% of their total food, and the majority of that (60%) is people wilfully throwing it away.
Europeans don't have as bad a record- though we still waste over a fifth of all our food, and more than half of that is stuff that we deliberately throw out.
Food waste is an affluence problem. The report points out that higher income households throw more away, with American families binning an average of $1,600 worth of food every year.
Sub-Saharan Africans on the other hand throw very little away, but lose far more at the production and handling stages, never getting the food to market in the first place. Food loss is largely a poverty problem, down to bumpy roads and inadequate storage facilities rather than consumer behaviour.
In a world in which hundreds of millions continue to experience hunger, and that faces rising challenges from climate change and a growing population, it is vital that we fix both sides of this problem. Many organisations are addressing this in many practical ways: one interesting one that I came across recently was FoodCycle, which aims to builds communities by combining volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create nutritious meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation. They don’t currently have any food hubs in Scotland: perhaps your church could become the first? Find out more at http://foodcycle.org.uk/