Food prices are already high, and experts predict they’ll go even higher. Considering this the amount of food that’s wasted regularly is mind-boggling.
Nearly 40% of the food in the US is trashed, and this number comes from the US Dept. of Agriculture. If not for all the food that’s tossed, our food bills would be much lower. Even more importantly, many millions of Americans would not go to sleep hungry each night, wondering where their next meal will come from.
CBS News reported in March that nearly 25% of American adults are food insecure, an increase of about five percentage points from the year before. Among this group are the elderly, the ill, and young children.
Looking at this number from a different perspective: Each year 119 billion pounds of food are wasted in the US – that’s enough for 130 billion meals, at a cost of $408 billion. And this is happening even as hunger is becoming more widespread.
Hunger is not confined to any one region; it reaches across the country and is especially bad in some areas. The following 10 states have the highest percentages of households that are experiencing hunger: Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Missouri.
Many other countries also are grappling with the problems of food wastage and food insecurity. In fact, Action Against Hunger estimates that nearly 10% of the global population is affected, and others say this number is even higher.
Why is this happening? To some extent, it is a remnant of the economic shock of the pandemic, but there are other factors, too, such as the war in Ukraine, unpredictable and extreme weather conditions, soaring costs for farming, and related factors.
By the way, you may be surprised to learn which two countries waste the most food. They are China and India with an estimated 92 million and 69 million tons respectively, even though huge percentages of their populations are food pressured. America is in third place.
Unused food does not literally go down the drain, although it just as well might. According to Fortune, “US consumers waste about one-third of all purchased food… That’s equivalent to $1,500 worth of groceries for a four-person household each year.” Dairy products lead this list.
So exactly who and what are responsible? There is no shortage of culprits, and they include supermarkets, restaurants, and consumers.
Supermarkets are blamed because they encourage consumers to purchase more food than they need. Restaurants have to serve the freshest food or patrons will take their business elsewhere. And consumers are not always careful enough with the food they have. The common denominator here is that each discards perfectly usable food.
Changing Our Habits
Our shopping habits are not perfect, and neither is our meal planning, but there’s reason to believe both of those may improve dramatically in the very near future for a variety of reasons. The most important one is that they will just have to.
Unfortunately, many of the factors that have caused food shortages are either still around or are showing signs of resuming. These include the war in Ukraine. In addition, meteorologists are warning that a weather phenomenon they call a “super el nino” appears to be developing and, if it does, the extreme conditions it brings could create huge problems for farmers and ultimately for consumers in North America and beyond.
As a result, they say certain staples in our diets could cost much more in the coming months. In some areas, these may not be available at any price. Of course, any escalation in the war in Ukraine or heightened tensions in other regions could exacerbate this problem. Following are some of the items most of us take for granted and assume will always be on store shelves that may be impacted going forward.
Many people need a meat meal to feel satisfied, and this could become a problem. At the height of last year’s drought, many ranchers were forced to sell parts of their herds, and as a result, meat supplies could become tighter and more expensive this year and beyond. Unfortunately, rebuilding herds takes many months.
If cows are in short supply, it follows that dairy products will be too. Although not quite as popular as meat, dairy is used very widely. According to one study, over 90% of families have milk in their fridges, and many, if not most, also have related products like butter, cheese, yogurt, cream, and/or ice cream.
Wheat and related products like bread are becoming more expensive, and global stockpiles are declining. This year, Ukraine will produce many millions of tons of grain, but how many of them will actually be exported remains to be seen. If a significant percentage does not make it to market, the whole world will feel the shortfall. Popular wheat-based foods include bread, cakes and cookies, pasta, cereal, pizza, pancakes, and wafers. A shortage in rice may also be developing.
Vegetable oils don’t sound very exciting, but they are used by major food companies, every restaurant, and most households. These oils add omega-3 and other crucial nutrients to our diets and without them, the foods we enjoy simply would not taste the same. According to Bloomberg, “A global biofuel boom is set to drive a shortage of vegetable oils.”
Many more products may also be difficult to purchase in the coming months such as sugar, mustard, honey, cherries, coffee, and grapes. Add peaches and oranges to this list.
Those of us who have grown up in America have never worried about food shortages, but no one can guarantee this will not develop. As one website writes, “We are in the process of transitioning from an era of plenty to one of scarcity.”
Hopefully, this view is overstated. But wouldn’t it be prudent to stock up on essentials and reduce waste to the extent that we can – just in case?
Sources: actionagainsthunger.org; cbsnews.com; bloomberg.com; feedingamerica.org; fortune.com; ucdavis.edu; usda.gov; wfporg; YouTube: 25 foods that will go out of stock in the months ahead by Clayton Morris