Despite huge amounts of food still being wasted every day in the world, initiatives in various countries demonstrate growing public awareness about this modern-day abomination.
BOGOTÁ —The amounts of food discarded every day could feed the world's hungry 10 times over, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has observed.
Three years ago I reflected on the ghastly figures concerning this tragic waste. I lived for 12 years in a monastery where I became accustomed to seeing monks utilize virtually every bit of food. They would find something to do with vegetable skin and inedible bits.
The impact of wasting food is not just moral, financial or social. It's also environmental, given the amount of water and fertilizers used to produce it, the fuel burned in trash collection and the greenhouse gases these processes generate, which in turn foment more poverty.
The scandal is that the planet can evidently produce food for everyone, but our depraved consumer culture and typical ignorance mean that our food is instead being discarded in trash bags or being left to rot in fields because, for one example, the potatoes don't meet size standards. It's certainly a sin.
The figures here haven't changed much in recent years, but fortunately there does seem to be a fledgling process of reflection. People are speaking about effectively fighting food waste in many parts of the world. The French have banned markets from dumping food that's approaching its expired date or that doesn't meet some unrealistic aesthetic standard.
French film director Agnès Varda made two beautiful documentaries about "gleaners," whether they're dumpster divers or junk scavengers. In the Book of Leviticus, the Hebrews are told not to pick fallen harvest fruit, which should be left to the poor and hungry travelers.
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Still-life with dumpster dive. Photo: Starr
In the past 15 years, many groups have emerged and are contributing to better public awareness about the problem: chefs who use ingredients discarded for aesthetic or other irrational reasons, young people and adults who live off what they find, or supermarkets that no longer throw out food. People are starting to talk about the size of packaging, and packaging itself, while "solidarity fridges" are emerging, allowing people who need leftover food items to help themselves.
There has also been a growing number of food banks that receive donations or buy products that are about to expire to distribute to the needy. There is an organized network of these banks in Colombia. But individuals continue to throw out about half of what they buy.
We all must understand the need to safeguard food, to draw up more modest grocery lists, to eat up our purchases and accept "flawed" fruit and vegetables. We must monitor and gauge what we throw out, use the edible bits of our fruit and vegetables, and establish habits that will help curb humanity's colossal food waste.