May 13th, 2011
06:36 AM GMT
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Hong Kong, China (CNN) – An average 30-year old who’s eaten three meals a day since birth has consumed more than 30,000 meals to date.  Even if you’ve only eaten half that much you have to admit this: you’ve let some of that breakfast, lunch or dinner go to waste.

And it turns out we’re all to blame for this gut-wrenching fact: 30% of all food produced in the world each year is wasted or lost.  That’s about 1.3 billion tons, according to a new report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

That’s the weight of more than 8.6 million full-grown blue whales, the largest creatures on earth.  That’s the weight of more than 2.3 million Airbus A380s, the largest commercial planes in existence.  That’s as if each person in China, the world’s most populous country with more than 1.3 billion people, had a one ton mass of food they could just throw into the trashcan.

It’s almost unfathomable isn’t it?

Breaking apart that big number, we find the people with the most money are the ones who waste the most.

Per capita, Europeans and North Americans waste between 95 and 115 kilograms of food. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia waste much, much less – between 6 and 11 kilograms per person.  The takeaway? The developed world wastes 10 times more food than the developing one.

Here’s another statistic: all the food that the world’s richest countries waste is about equal to all the food that sub-Saharan Africa produces. The numbers: 222 million tons and 230 million tons, respectively. Basically, the waste of the rich could feed much of the African continent.

And these numbers come as we’ve just been reporting about soaring food prices around the world in the past week.

China reported 11.5% April food inflation year on year earlier this week.

India reported 8.5% April food inflation earlier this month.

South Africa and the U.S. have yet to report their April numbers but year-end forecasts say the former could see up to 15% inflation, the latter could see up to 6% inflation.

A major change of mindset is what is needed.

The U.N. says one of the biggest challenges is helping people get over the perception of food perfection.  Perhaps it’s instinctual to rummage through that pile of Red Delicious apples at the market looking for those few, unbruised perfect specimens.  But beauty is only peel deep.  And a fresh fruit that has a bump on it is actually still edible and probably tastes just as good.

The U.N. also suggests that charities work together with markets to collect food that’s unsold and about to pass its expiry date.  It can be redistributed or cooked up at food kitchens for the needy and homeless.

A third suggestion: simply don’t buy more food than you need.  You’re more likely to not finish it, you’ll end up throwing it away and you’ll have wasted your money.

And my own personal tip: if I eat at a restaurant and can’t finish it all, I ask for a doggie bag. I used to be a waiter years ago and will never forget the amounts of food I saw left on the table after the bill was paid.

There’s no reason to waste food.  It’s up to all of us to use our common sense to eat and shop just a bit wiser. Remember, we’ve got 1.3 billion tons of food on our plate to clean up – each year and counting.


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soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. esreddy

    Western countries and other so called developed countries waste a lot of food. Most Asian countries are very frugal about what they eat and keep wastage, if any, to a negligible amount.

    May 13, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  2. Matthew

    What I've taken away from this article... Americans aren't fat, we just are trying to not waste food!

    May 13, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  3. Mark

    This article is only part of the story. Actually a whole lot more food is wasted by being given to farm animals. 20 kg of grain = 1 kg of meat. That is 19 KG of food wasted, not to mention the thousands of litres of water each farm animal consumes. This is what is destroying Earth. Forests around the world are being chopped down to make room to grow more and more corn and soy to feed farm animals. Everyone please GO VEGAN for the Earth, your health, and of course for the animals!

    May 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  4. richard mavers

    I think more restaurants should let you decide how much you want and pay accordingly for just that much, rather than forcing people to order more than they can handle.

    May 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  5. Kimberly Hiller

    Living in South Korea I will have to disagree with Esreddy. All the restaurants I go to and the families I eat with I see them wasting a ton of food. Having lived previously in the U.S., I would have to say they waste a little bit less, but still a lot.

    May 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  6. feed one more

    we throw away enough food to feed one more. but how would you distribute it such that it doesn't have molds and fungi and such?

    May 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  7. vijoy Tuladhar

    I am against wasting the hard grown food.
    I finish my plate and put the extra food in my refrigerator.The peelings I feed to the redworms I have, and make compost.
    I have seen the poors eating out of the wastes thrown out in the waste bins in calcutta
    .I have seen people sleeping in the streets.I do not like to waste my food nor do I like others wasting food.
    when I was visiting united states many years ago.
    I have seen people eating more than their body can digest in America.
    The world would have been much better if people did not waste.
    Not only food there are several things that has to be used well.This earth is depleting in resources.
    Please use them well.
    That is all i can say.

    May 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  8. Adam

    This is only part of the story... It is common knowledge that governments make farmers and producers burn all the surplus of food they have just to keep prices where they are, or in this case, raise the prices... Surpluses that can feed all of Africa...
    Also it is well known that grocery stores throw away more food than some small countries produce... so its not all the individual's fault.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  9. Robert

    esreddy

    Asians are frugal? You have obviously never been to China. hahah

    May 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  10. Keith

    @Mark

    Yeah but that 1 kg of meat taste a whole lot better then 19 kg of salad. Although I don't mind having a little salad with my steak.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  11. André Leal

    A change of mindset it's necessary, but it's not easy to happen without a hard push. If the governments are really bothered with this situation, it's perfectly possible to make a legislation which sets an extra tax to be paid by persons which waste lots of food in public places, like restaurants and malls. And if the people which also see the food waste as an absurd, they're free to require from their representatives to establish a hard line through the lawss to minimize the most of this unfortunate situation.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  12. Anna

    @Richard Mavers. Most sensible comment so far. Most restaurant portions are far too large, especially in the US. In kebap restaurants here in Turkey, you have at least the option of ordering one or one and a half portion (for the really hungry), but I agree with you, it needs to go farther. Why not offer three portion sizes, say, S, M, and L, like with T-shirts?

    May 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  13. Logan

    Not a very helpful article in my opinion. Even if it is not consumed in the end, food that is eventually 'wasted' still provides value as a standby should we want it. Per capita-food production has been steadily increasing every year – we should be grateful that our wealth is such that we aren't struggling to use 'every part of the buffalo' – we can consume at a leisurely pace and focus our energies on other parts of our lives.

    Marginal opportunity cost is something journalists such as this don't understand very well. Yes, the modern world 'wastes' much of its food, but compare the total value lost because of this with the values that would go unrealized due to individuals devoting more time and energy trying to zealously eliminate waste instead of pursuing other, more useful tasks.

    May 13, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  14. Stacey

    Wasting food? How about stores giving us crap food and then we have nothing to do BUT THROW IT OUT.

    I am so tired of buying stuff, bringing it home and then it going bad. I know how to store food I just dont get how it goes bad so fast anymore. Stawberries – 2 days max then they turn furry even a loaf of bread I bought last week went mouldy in a week WTH!?

    May 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  15. André

    You waste even more – several hundred percent more – by feeding good food to animals first and then eat the animals. The savings of a vegetarian world would make these statistics look like chicken sh.. I mean, it would look meaningless.

    May 13, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  16. Danny Tabb

    Turning corn into fuel is the biggest waste of food and by far the biggest sham being forced down our throats. Do the math, it does not add up.

    May 13, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  17. ARButterfly

    Whats also not mentioned is the waste that our farmers are doing. There are tons and tons of farm land and orchards that are planted, they grow, and produce tons of fruit and vegitables. Because the goverment gives the farmers good money to let their crops rot thousands of starving American children goes to school with out eating, goes home with out eating goes to bed with out eating. Theres something wrong with this picture!

    May 13, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  18. Carol

    What I take from this article is the more affluent people are, the more they waste. Here now food left over from banquets, corporate parties, etc. are picked up and fed to the homeless. Many stores donate about to expire products and produce to the Salvation Army, etc. Food waste can be cut down greatly. Today's leftover steak or roast is tomorrow's beef stew, which can be frozen. I freeze leftovers into microwave meals. You can do lots at home, plus compost leftovers and give back to mother nature. Not all of us are wasteful.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  19. Ehson

    There is a great initiative in urban cities of Pakistan started by some university students called THALI. What they do is go around restaurants and hotels around their respective cities and ask for leftovers that would probably be thrown away. All these leftovers are gathered and packaged in lunch boxes and stored in the freezers. Later the food is defrosted and distributed among the homeless people at different homeless shelters. This idea should be taken up by students in the U.S and Europe since over there a vastly greater amount of food is wasted than here in Pakistan.

    May 14, 2011 at 6:43 am |
  20. DaLe

    Where I am employed at right now (supermarket store of chain), at times loads of food, which is still edible by humans, are thrown out. Leaving eg. apples with bumps on the sale-table means trouble by supervisors (where I am at, especially by the alleged female lover of the boss there, this lover allegedly being married to another guy, wearing a christian cross around her neck and having shouted at me the first day there straight away without even introducing herself – because of bumpy apple). And no one (of the employees) is allowed to take any of day-of-expiry-food home since it would be stealing, and if it would be allowed to do so by company, many would unfortunately misuse that to take home stuff which is still sale-able, on the company's costs, as well as probably being some kind of 'spoils of war' system of redistribution. Not sure what I am actually allowed to say about these things by company and work law without getting sued for posting here despite it being 'anonymous' and not about any particular company.

    Where food is wasted which also can't be used as feed for animals, a lot of it can be composted and recycled to be used as fertilizer and soil enrichment.

    May 14, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  21. Gigi Q

    @ esreddy: The biggest food wasters in Asia has got to be in Japan. Their drive for perfection means they dump all imperfect items from the start of the manufacturing process all through till the end of the shelf life. It's a terrible shame, this twisted fixation to perfection. The problem isn't helped when the rest of the world applauds their perfectionistic habit and overlooks their wasteful practices.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  22. stephen

    Why do we just not ask our local supermarket/restaurant where the spoiled food or out of date food goes. The supermarkets would be happy to avoid paying less food disposal costs. Its a win-win. What we also need is being less fussy about the food we get. If we grew the food ourselves, would we worry about a mis-shaped carrot? Yet supermarket giants force everything to be the same shape because we want it to be. Humans in nature are not the same, so why expect every pepper to be! The best food in a restaurant I ever had, was about the quality not the quantity.

    May 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  23. Richard

    Unfortunately food waste is a problem. If we all grew a little of our own food, we would have a better appreciation of our food.

    May 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  24. Dave

    Here's a novel idea. Bring back canabilism. Then, they will have an excess of food all the time and the more they procreate the more food they will have. Problem solved and world hunger is gone forever. Plus, it would help to keep the world population in check. Send them some can cookers and hot sauce and they should be all set.

    May 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  25. Jen

    Although it is true article, and of course rich people waste more food than poor (simply because they can afford to and will indulge their whims and desires at a moment's notice, even if that desire changes tomorrow). However, if the wealthy did not waste so much of the food they bought, does that mean the poor would get more of it ? No. They could still not afford to buy it, or potentially that food would still not be available in their region.

    Personally I do not waste food, I recycle packaging and compost food waste. However, I think this article is quite simplistic in its line of thinking about how waste in one area if elminated could magically make things better for other regions. The problem is far more complex ...

    May 15, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  26. Jen in France

    I wanted to respond to those people who posted earlier whining about how fast their food goes "bad". Bread since time immemorial is not meant to last a week – only nasty preservatives make it last longer than a day. Bread should be purchased daily or every other day, freshly baked (or get a bread maker) – and vegetables and fruit at least every week. If you buy from a farmers market it will stay fresher longer (less travel time after picking). So buy only the amount you will use in the time normal food will take to go bad ! Ripe fruits must be eaten immediately (hence the term "ripe"). So again buy only what you will use in the proper time frame for that food – and yes, like Europeans already do, you may simply find you shop more often and get smaller amounts of food when you shop. Europeans have smaller refriderators than Americans mainly because we like our food fresh and without preservatives and we shop every few days and look for the freshest ripest foods ! Also only buy vegetables that are in season – not imported unripe tasteless junk from thousands of miles away. Learn what good tasting ripe produce is all about again – it will change how you think about food and make your meals.

    May 15, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  27. Andrian Harsono

    Only goes to show how much we're missing the point sometimes when it comes to combating climate change. Before we start building wind farms and solar panels, we should be dealing with this first of all. If we eliminate waste altogether and only buy what we need from the stores, we would have much less of an energy problem to begin with.

    May 15, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  28. jesus

    North americans are the most richest in the world,the most wasteful not only in food but energy,resources,greed,
    water,air,life (war mongering).
    They consume the most oil(air,land,sea)
    They dispose waste the most and send their waste to developing countries like china (asia) and africa
    They also hoard the most resources like oil and uranium.
    They do fracking to extract gases from depths of the earth and use water to do this.

    May 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  29. Death Metal Chef

    As long as there are restaurants there will be wasted food. We as chefs do everything possible on our end to make sure nothing in preparation is wasted... for example making stocks out of veg + meat scraps. Every little bit of product that gets delivered to us has a $ value, so to throw these things out is to throw $ away. However, there is no way possible to eliminate all the waste. Until someone invents a magic crystal ball that tells us how many portions of salmon we'll sell every day, there will be spoilage. There is nothing you can do with product once it goes bad. If I wouldn't sell it to a paying customer I certainly wouldn't risk giving someone food poisoning by giving it away to them. Spoiled food is spoiled food. Also, the customer needs to change their perceptions of what an "adequate" portion size is. The way the economy is has turned every customer (no matter how affluent) into a bargain hunter. If people don't see a mountain of food in front of them they feel as if they're not getting "value for my dollar". Make your portions too small and people riot in the dining room. However, give them the massive portions they expect and half of it goes in the trash. Chefs are caught between a rock and a hard place, as there is no possible way to predict precisely how much each customer will eat.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  30. letsnotwastefood

    I think this article seeks to confirm what many would have already known; it merely quantifies the amount which in my opinion, is astonishingly high. Hands up to anyone who have thrown away food or know someone who does that before. I'm sure many would agree that due to the various processes and operational requirements of businesses and individuals, food wastage is inevitable. Instead of pushing the blame around, let us reflect and examine how we can reduce the amount of food wasted, or to channel these excess food to others who need it more. I like some of the ideas which some have proposed, and I would certainly be taking a more active role to help reduce food wastage from now on. The onus is on us to reduce these precious resources produced by Mother Nature.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:33 am |
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    September 6, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  32. 99fivenine

    I would just like to point out, mainly to "Mark" who posted above that if the entire world became vegan there would not be nearly enough tillable and fertile land to grow vegetables and non animal products to feed more than half, if not less, of the earths current population, not to mention the future, ever growing population. The fact of it is that we need to produce food animals, especially in developing countries because many of these countries only have land suitable for grazing animals and not at all suitable for growing food crops in any sustainable amount. I have no problem with anybody being a vegan, I don't feel that anybody should force their ideas on unwilling people, but at the same time I like people to be informed. I went to school to further my education in farming and learned more than I ever would have known before, humans just need to be educated in their practices and some people need to be educated in other peoples' practices. If your interested just look at how much of the earth is covered by land, then how much of that is grassland, then how much of that is actually fertile for growing something other than indigenous grasses, it really is not very much.
    About this article though, yes humans by nature are extremely wasteful, in fact the human body only utilizes about a quarter of what it ingests so I'm sure these numbers given in the article are much lower than if all waste is taken into account. One good thing about this recession though is that many people have realized that they should not take their food sources for granted and have either become involved in producing food locally or at least wasting less and learning where and how food comes from.

    November 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
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