Thursday, November 30, 2017

Is “food waste” really wasted food?

Featuring work by: Marc Bellemare, Metin Çakir, Hikaru Hanawa Peterson, Lindsay Novak, and Jeta Rudi

November 29th 2017
In 2012, the Food Network premiered The Big Waste. The show featured world-renowned chefs Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Anne Burrell, and Alex Guarnaschelli competing in pairs to prepare a gourmet banquet meal.

The twist? They could only use food intended for the landfill. The episode drew attention to the issue of food waste. In 2014, the documentary Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story came out. It, too, focused attention on the issue of food waste and received praise from both critics and viewers.

Food waste has become a major cause for concern in the United States. Or at least, that’s what some prominent organizations suggest. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that the United States wastes 103 million tons of food. This number suggests the United States squanders lots of food and concerns about food insecurity continue to rise.

The statistics suggest that food waste is a problem, but how do these organizations calculate them? And what, exactly, is food waste? When organizations attempt to monetize the value of the waste, what price do they use? And once they arrive at an appropriate number, what can be done? These questions greatly affect whether food waste represents a policy priority or not.

To understand the difficulties in calculating the extent and cost of food waste, it is useful to begin with recognizing the steps involved from farm to table.

The final product sold to consumers goes through a number of processing, transformation, transportation, and distribution stages before ending up on someone’s plate. To oversimplify a bit, someone first grows the food which she then sells to processors. Retailers buy from the processors. Finally, consumers purchase the food from retailers.

The estimates from FAO overestimate the extent and cost of food waste. First, the definition used by the FAO identifies food waste as the “discarding or alternative (nonfood) use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption along the entire food supply chain.”

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