Last week we hit you with a number: 7,021,836,029. That is the seven-billion-twenty-one-million-eight-hundred-thirty-six-thousand-twenty-nine people living on our planet.
Now, try to imagine how much food this unbelievably large group of people consumes in one year. The result is probably quite a large pile of food. Now, multiply your pile by 7 billion and picture the mountain -- or rather mountain range -- of food required to feed the world population. Approximately 3.9 billion metric tons of food is produced annually for human consumption. Even more astounding is that the fact that approximately a third of all food produced is thrown away, according to a study conducted by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology. This means 1.3 billion metric tons of foods is produced, transported, sold, smelled, touched, bought, carried home and -- if it makes it that far -- cooked, but never actually consumed. Every single year. Like a child with too many toys, has the world simply become spoiled?
Focusing on Europe, with 733 million people and growing food production, the numbers unfortunately fail to suggest a sustainable approach to consumption and waste. In fact, up to 140 million tons of food is wasted in Europe each year. This corresponds to 300 kilos per person. The kicker? Two-thirds of the wasted food is edible! How about that as a number?
Looking at these figures, do you sense an initiative a-brewing? It is, in fact, already underway, with Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, a Swedish Member of the European Parliament (MEP), leading the charge. She believes that throwing away more than 50 percent of food sold in Europe is economically, ethically, morally and environmentally unacceptable. These numbers have driven her to campaign to drastically reduce food loss and waste all along the food chain. Persistently standing on the side of the consumer, Corazza Bildt, who sits on the Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO), is a former U.N. worker and is deeply engaged in developmental issues, believes that "how we eat, how we move, and what we breathe in is all connected to European legislation." She has therefore called on the European Commission to adopt a broad range of measures to help consumers and industries cut food waste.
Evoking the words of Patti Smith, "People Have the Power," Corazza Bildt says that everyone can have an impact and together make a difference. The question is: how? First and foremost, people as consumers have a lot of leverage over companies, who rely on people buying their products and are ultimately at the people's mercy. Seeing as food producers and manufacturers as the single largest source of food waste, voting with your wallet to put pressure on the food industry can be highly effective.
While consumers can put pressure on the industry, they also need to take a look in the mirror as households are also seasoned in the art of wasting food. Consider for a while that consumer in developed countries waste nearly the same amount of the food as is produced in sub-Saharan Africa (222 and 230 million tons, respectively). At home, Corazza Bildt advocates using "common sense" and urges people to -- despite running the risk of a unpleasant surprise -- look at the food, smell it and touch it. It is most likely more fresh and useable than you first thought. Also, if you are full and cannot stomach another bite -- save the leftovers for tomorrow! If you are eating out, ask them to wrap up for you and bring it home. In many cases it is not the food that is outdated, but our thinking.
While on the topic of outdated food, what does that date on the food actually mean? Last October, the IMCO presented their report on food and sustainability, stating that a reason why so much food is wasted if cause by the mysterious "best by" labeling. Most people have probably found at one time or another standing in a supermarket wondering about the actual meaning of the terms: expiry date, use by, sell by or "best before." The report strongly urges the use of properly defined and commonly understood labels to avoid perfectly edible food from being thrown out.
Overall, Anna Maria Corazza Bildt stresses the importance of looking at all components -- the economy, environment and communities -- that contribute to well-being. In other words, slashing food waste will not only indicate improved consumption habits and better resource management, but would also have a positive impact on society as a whole. Whether consumers and companies will buy this argument remains to be seen.
Anna Maria Corazza Bildt joins The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in New York's Annual Green Summit, "From Farm to Fork," on Oct. 3, 2012, to discuss her work to campaign against food waste.
To learn more about Anna Maria Corazza Bildt or the Green Summit, From Farm to Fork, check out www.saccny.org, follow @saccnewyork and the hashtag #Farm2Fork on Twitter, or explore our Facebook page www.facebook.com/saccny.