Most people toss their leftovers in the trash unaware of the sheer scale of the food-waste problem. A 2011 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization found that of the 6 billion tons of food produced in America in 2007, 1.6 billion were wasted. The number has since risen, with the Rockefeller Institute now declaring that one-third of globally produced food spoils or is thrown out.
It’s a formidable problem made more complex by tremendous variation in how food is wasted from region to region, which presents difficulties in finding broad solutions. In developing countries, waste typically occurs during production stages. In middle- and high-income regions (like the EU and U.S.), waste results primarily at the retail and consumer level. That explains why French and Italian laws are aimed at grocery stores, restaurants and educating consumers, something Bourdain’s documentary hopes to achieve in America, where retail and consumer waste combined account for 83 percent of the country’s food waste.
Finally, there are the implications of waste, most notably for consumers, the environment and the hungry. Research by the Rockefeller Institute found that in the United States, families discard about one-fourth of the food they buy at a cost of $1,365 to $2,275 a year.
The environment doesn’t fare any better. Nearly one-quarter of annual global greenhouse gas emissions result from agricultural activities, and the global carbon footprint of wasted food accounts for 7 percent of worldwide emissions. If the global food waste’s tally were considered in total, its carbon footprint would rank third, behind that for the U.S. and China. Furthermore, food that is grown but ultimately wasted occupies 1.4 billion hectares of land, representing 30 percent of the world’s entire agricultural land area.
In the end, food waste not only applies pressure on consumers and an environment already under duress but also robs the more than 1.2 billion people around the world who are food insecure or undernourished. With the population expected to grow by about 2 billion people over the next 40 years, this problem can’t be tossed aside.