20 million people are on the brink of starvation. 20 million. The worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria, Eritrea and Kenya. Humanitarian crisis. Worst since World War II.
So sad, so distant. Keep scrolling. The news headlines flash past us like mosquitoes, bothering us, but what can we do? Halfway across the world, no matter how much good will we have, we can’t feed 20 million people.
Stop. Everything is the result of something else. World hunger, the overwhelming, seemingly unsolvable problem is a result of our broken food system. A one-stroke solution does not exist, but what does exist is our responsibility to educate and to become more conscious of our choices.
Thirty-three percent of all food produced worldwide is wasted in food production and consumption systems. One trillion dollars worth of food, in the dump. That means one in four calories meant for consumptions goes uneaten, according to the World Food Day website.
One quarter of all wasted food could feed 795 undernourished people worldwide, according to Food Tank. In a world where headlines about hunger are as common as celebrity news, we should not be shocked by these numbers, we should be outraged.
“We know that a peaceful world cannot long exist, one-third rich and two-thirds hungry,” former President Jimmy Carter said. Carter wisely points out the implications of world hunger that are far beyond merely lack of food. History has taught us that hunger leads to social unrest; it affects people’s whole lives, not just their appetite.
Furthermore, food waste is also an environmental concern. We often don’t consider this when we talk about hunger, but food scraps are the second highest components of US landfills, which are the largest source of methane emission worldwide, according to the World Food Day website. If wasted food was a country, it would be the third largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world after the United States and China, according to Food Tank.
Think. We all contribute to this catastrophe. We throw away whole meals without a second thought. I once ordered a sandwich at Starbucks, but the waitress forgot to warm it up. When I alerted her of her mistake, she didn’t take the sandwich and put it in the toaster. Instead, she threw the whole, perfectly good sandwich into the trash with a flick of her wrist and started a new sandwich. I stood there gaping.
Another time my mother made homemade pizza for my brother’s birthday party. At the start of the dinner, all of the kids greedily piled at least three slices on their plates right away. However, when I was cleaning up, I saw that almost every child had a whole slice left on their plate, missing one bite. Everyone has witnessed scenarios like these.
Americans lead the world in food waste. The consumer culture, fixated on huge portions, replaceability and advertising, results in a illusion that food is a inextinguishable resource. Meals pass by like our everyday to-do list, occasionally raised to celebrity status to provoke Instagram jealousy. Appreciate the aesthetic, but remember that the food in the mouth-watering picture has impact beyond the red bouquet of hearts on your screen.
People may claim that portions are simply too big for one person so we are forced to throw out part of our meal. That is nonsense. Ask how big the serving sizes are, and split it with a friend if it’s too big. Or take half of it home and eat it for your next meal. It’ll not only be better for other people, but also for your pocketbook. Next time you walk up to the trash can, I ask you to think twice. Can you pack it up for later? Can you cut off the part that you bit into and offer it to someone else? I won’t be mad if there are food stains on your newspaper. I’ll be mad if the source of those stains ends up in the trash.