These past months, there have been many heartbreaking aspects of the viral pandemic. An unfortunate part of the pandemic has been the extensive loss of jobs, which has led to food insecurity for many people. Food pantries have been stretched beyond their normal capacity to assist people in need. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s tracking poll, 26% of Americans reported one or more members of their household had gone without meals or relied on food programs to obtain groceries in the month of May. Unfortunately, approximately 11% of American citizens already experience some level of food insecurity and have needed assistance prior to the pandemic; 4.3% of Americans fall in the category of very low food security. One in 9 people around the world is undernourished.
The magnitude of food wasted at various stages of production, distribution, and preparation/consumption is distressing at the same time so many people are food insecure. In Pope Francis’ words: “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.” Nearly half of globally produced fruits and vegetables are wasted. According to the United Nations Environment Program, one-third of food in the world goes to waste, mostly on the consumer and retail levels, corresponding to 1.3 billion tons. The pandemic-related lockdown led to an abrupt drop in demand for milk products and the dumping of 3.7 million gallons of milk daily, according to estimates from Dairy Farmers of America. Similarly, enormous amounts of products have been discarded, with devastating effects on many farmers.
In addition to the exasperating waste of food, the production of food requires enormous amounts of energy, chemicals, and water, and the disposal of food waste produces methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas, which contributes to the warming of the atmosphere. There are many important reasons to demand efficient, sustainable, and humane food production and distribution worldwide. On a personal level, we should purchase only what we will eat. Here is an important perspective from Pope Francis: “Few have too much, and many have little. We need the help of the international community, civil society, and all those who have the resources. Responsibilities cannot be evaded, passed from one to another, but must be assumed in order to offer concrete and real solutions.”
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.