Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why You No Eat Food

Apparently I'm now making my post titles based on creepypasta or something.

I mentioned in the actually-regularly-scheduled post last night, the one about cleaning up India, that, well, India needs cleaning up. Because there's a bunch of garbage laying around.

One thing I suppose I ought to add to that chat about garbage is where, precisely, the garbage comes from in the first place. There's an environmental think tank in Washington called the World Resources Institute; having never heard of them, I took a quick check of them to make sure I wasn't getting into anything overly partisan or agenda-pushing (beyond the obvious, being an environmental think tank and all), and they appear to check out. Plus they're affiliated with the UN, so that helps. So here goes.

As WRI's Brian Lipinski blogged this past Thursday, the exact makeup of garbage depends on what part of the world you live in. They focused in on food waste; food that could have been eaten but for whatever reason was not. They also zeroed in on the year 2009 for their analysis. This PDF file provides all the gory details, but the takeaway Lipinski provided was this: the less developed the region, the earlier in the process from production to consumption that the loss is likely to occur.

If you are in sub-Saharan Africa, things are likely to go wrong in the production stage (39% of region waste) or handling and storage (37% of region waste). South and southeast Asia is almost the same way (32% in production, 37% in handling/storage). Production here means food lost in the actual act of farming it- crops that got torn up during harvesting, crops thrown away for not being good enough to send to market, that kind of thing. Handling and storage includes livestock that gets slaughtered wrong or isn't deemed healthy enough to slaughter for food, grain that goes bad in the silos, etc.

A comparatively small amount of loss happens in processing and packaging, with no region jumping out to an overly big 'lead' there (though a combined North America/Oceania region leads at 9%). This would be any food that gets damaged or lost in the process of stuffing it into a container for you to buy. Livestock trimmings that don't ultimately make it under the shrink wrap, anything the canning/bottling/boxing machines mangle or don't manage to get into a can/bottle/box.

Latin America (17%) and North Africa/West and Central Asia (18%) are the worst at the next step, distribution and market. This covers food that gets to the store, but never gets into a shopping cart. Expired food, stuff the customers knock off the shelf and break, anything the store rejects for not being salable.

And then you find industrialized Asia (46%), Europe (52%), and North America/Oceania (61%) with their big issue being the final step, consumption. That covers all the food that makes it into your house, but not into your belly.

If you'll look at Table 3 on Page 10 of the PDF file, you'll see various suggestions to reduce waste at each of the five stages.

"Reduce portion sizes" leaps out in the consumption section.

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