Food loss vs food waste: which one is our struggle?

Posted on April 20, 2012 by Anne Basye

Just last week in my local high school’s cafeteria, eager young volunteers stationed themselves with scales in front of garbage cans. Weighing and examining every item about to be thrown away, they came up with a gross tonnage of discards and determined that only 5% of the “garbage” needed to go to the landfill. The other 95% could be recycled or composted.

While some of the compostable items were napkins and paper plates, most of it was food.

Food tossed into the cafeteria garbage can is considered food waste— food wasted at the level of consumption, that we prepare and eat in our homes, stores, and high schools, the ELCA Churchwide Office, our congregations, offices, and countless other  institutions.

Food loss, on the other hand, takes place at the level of production. Failed crops are a good example. So are shortages triggered by hurricanes, typhoons, droughts, war and violence, and diseases like potato blight or wheat rust.

Through ELCA World Hunger, we’re all committed to addressing food loss. But the food waste that takes place in our own kitchens? Invisible, unchallenged, it’s our dirty little secret. Some might defend it as a privilege of our prosperity! Food loss happens everywhere. Food waste happens in high-income regions. Although this chart is a little hard to see, just look at the proportion of red to blue. Blue is food loss. Red is food waste. We North Americans have the biggest red chunk. (To see a larger chart, go to a cool blog called Discard Studies: Exploring Throw-Away Culture, also my source for the food loss/food waste distinction.)

So, fellow hunger advocates. What’s the plan for making our food waste as visible—and as reprehensible—as the world’s food loss?

For including our own shame in campaigns that focus on the world’s shame?

For adding a photo of our excess to the gallery of photos of other people’s lack?

For including our own practices in the hunger equation?

For looking at ourselves?

I can’t wait to hear.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity