The holiday season is celebrated with festivities involving plentiful food and drinks. Many view the cooking and sharing of meals as the best parts of the holidays. It is also a time when people are more inclined to donate to food pantries and volunteer to ensure less fortunate people enjoy full meals. The grocery stores for so many of us are consistently stocked with food of all sorts, but this is not the case everywhere. A close look at food waste and food insecurity reveals an alarming reality about food for the world.
Studies estimate that about 30% of food grown worldwide is never consumed. The loss and waste of food are connected to food security, food safety, the economy, and environmental sustainability. Food is lost or wasted when it is grown, harvested, stored, distributed and presented for consumption. Given that agriculture and the distribution of food require land, labor, nutrients, water, energy, pesticides and more, the human/environmental toll is much greater than the discarded food products. Food waste also reduces pay for food producers and laborers; food decay creates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Significant portions of the world’s rain forests are destroyed when the nutrient-rich land is converted for agriculture. It would be difficult to justify this environmentally destructive process if food waste is reduced.
While a massive amount of food is never consumed, 821 million people in the world are food insecure (about 1 in every 9 people), a number that has been rising, according to the World Health Organization. More extreme droughts and floods related to climate change are the main reasons for the more recent increase in hungry people. Climate variability affects rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons and is the driving force for climate change migration and loss of crops.
As the holidays approach, think about planning your meals in a way to eliminate food waste. Given that food waste in the United States amounts to about $48 billion annually, we probably all have room to improve our personal habits and can pay attention to the broader, moral problem. Cardinal Peter Turkson, a faithful spokesperson for the environment and care for the poor, stresses the need to meet food demands for all people in a dignified manner. “We must respect how we use our resources of creation but also how we pay attention to the needy, the fragile, the poor ones, in our midst.”
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.