Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of Our Abundance

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

 

According to staggering new statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), roughly one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to some 1.3 billion tons per year. In the developing world, over 40 percent of food losses occur after harvest—while being stored or transported, and during processing and packing. In industrialized countries, more than 40 percent of losses occur as a result of retailers and consumers discarding unwanted but often perfectly edible food.

At a time when the land, water, and energy resources necessary to feed a global population of 6.9 billion are increasingly limited—and when at least 1 billion people remain chronically hungry—food losses mean a waste of those resources and a failure of our food system to meet the needs of the poor. The Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project is highlighting ways to make the most of the food that is produced and to make more food available to those who need it most.

According to Tristram Stuart, a contributing author of Worldwatch’s State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet report, some 150 million tons of grains are lost annually in low-income countries, six times the amount needed to meet the needs of all the hungry people in the developing world. Meanwhile, industrialized countries waste some 222 million tons of perfectly good food annually, a quantity nearly equivalent to the 230 million tons that sub-Saharan Africa produces in a year. Unlike farmers in many developing countries, however, agribusinesses in industrial countries have numerous tools at their disposal to prevent food from spoiling—including pasteurization and preservation facilities, drying equipment, climate-controlled storage units, transport infrastructure, and chemicals designed to expand shelf-life.

“All this may ironically have contributed to the cornucopian abundance that has fostered a culture in which staggering levels of ‘deliberate’ food waste are now accepted or even institutionalized,” writes Stuart in his chapter, “Post-Harvest Losses: A Neglected Field.” “Throwing away cosmetically ‘imperfect’ produce on farms, discarding edible fish at sea, over-ordering stock for supermarkets, and purchasing or cooking too much food in the home, are all examples of profligate negligence toward food.”

Nourishing the Planet researchers traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, meeting with 350 farmers’ groups, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists. The amount of loss we saw is shocking considering that many experts estimate that the world will need to double food production in the next half-century as people eat more meat and generally eat better. It would make good sense to invest in making better use of what is already produced.

“Humanity is approaching — and in some places exceeding — the limits of potential farmland and water supplies that can be used for farming,” notes Worldwatch Institute Executive Director Robert Engelman. “We’re already facing food price spikes and the early impacts of human-caused climate change on food production. We can’t afford to overlook simple, low-cost fixes to reduce food waste.”

Nourishing the Planet offers the following three low-cost approaches that can go a long way toward making the most of the abundance that our food system already produces. Innovations in both the developing and industrialized worlds include:

  • Getting surpluses to those who need it. As mountains of food are thrown out every day in the cities of rich countries, some of the poorest citizens still struggle to figure out their next meal. Feeding America coordinates a nationwide network of food banks that receive donations from grocery chains. Florida’s Harry Chapin Food Bank, one of Feeding America’s partners, distributed 5.2 million kilograms of food in 2010. In New York City, City Harvest collects some 12.7 million kilograms of excess food each year from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms and delivers it to nearly 600 New York City food programs. Similarly, London Street FoodBank utilizes volunteers to collect unused food items from London businesses and get them to food banks around the city.
  • Raising consumer awareness and reducing waste to landfills. Those who can easily afford to buy food—and throw it away—rarely consider how much they discard or find alternatives to sending unwanted food to the landfill. In 2010, however, San Francisco became the first city to pass legislation requiring all households to separate both recycling and compost from garbage. By asking residents to separate their food waste, a new era of awareness is being fostered by the initiative. Nutrient-rich compost created by the municipal program is made available to area organic farmers and wine producers, helping to reduce resource consumption in agriculture. The Love Food Hate Waste website—an awareness campaign of the U.K.-based organization Wrap—provides online recipes for using leftovers as well as tips and advice for reducing personal food waste.
  • Improving storage and processing for small-scale farmers in developing countries. In the absence of expensive, Western-style grain stores and processing facilities, smallholders can undertake a variety of measures to prevent damage to their harvests. In Pakistan, the United Nations helped 9 percent of farmers cut their storage losses up to 70 percent by simply replacing jute bags and mud constructions with metal grain storage containers. And Purdue University is helping communities in rural Niger maintain year-round cow pea supplies by making low-cost, hermetically sealed plastic bags available through the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) program. Another innovative project uses solar energy to dry mangoes after harvest; each year, more than 100,000 tons of the fruit go bad before reaching the market in western Africa.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

 

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: 100 Years After Triangle Fire, Immigrant Workers Still Fighting for Labor Rights

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Last week marked the centennial of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. The tragedy prompted widespread labor reforms in the United States, but its commemoration underscores the plight of immigrant workers similarly exploited today.

As Richard Greenwald notes at Working in These Times, the disaster marked “the moment that a strong collective working class demanded its citizenship rights,” while today, “we are living in a time where organized labor is weak, fractured and leaderless.” He concludes that a rebirth of labor must come, as it did in 1911, from today’s new immigrant communities, which continue to bear the brunt of exploitative labor practices.

Immigrant workers rally for labor rights

Immigrant workers and union organizers articulated the same sentiment when they commemorated the fire last week. According to Catalina Jaramillo at Feet in Two Worlds, labor groups rallied Friday to call for safer working conditions and unionization—especially for the thousands of immigrants who face abuse and exploitation because of their immigration status. One union member articulated the similarities between today’s migrant workers and those who perished in the Triangle Fire:

“I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all,” said Walfre Merida, a member of Local 79, from the stage.

Merida, 25, said before joining the union he worked at a construction company where he was not paid overtime, had no benefits and was paid in cash.

“Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop,” he told El Diario/La Prensa. ”When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.”

Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times adds that, while workplaces in general have gotten safer, immigrant workers tend to be employed in the most dangerous professions and are disproportionately affected by workplace health and safety problems. In particular, foreign-born Latinos tend to suffer injury and illness at a much higher rate than U.S.-born Latinos. Lydersen writes:

Work-related injury and illness can be especially devastating for undocumented workers since they are often fired because of their injury and they often don’t collect workers compensation or other benefits due them. […] A 2009 Government Accountability Office report says non-fatal workplace injuries could be under-reported by 80 percent.

Crackdown on immigrant workers bad for the economy

Other labor rights advocates are drawing attention to the federal government’s ongoing crackdown on immigrant workers. Worksite audits which require employers to check the immigration status of their workers have resulted in thousands of layoffs in recent months. This sweeping trend hurts families as well as local economies, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.

The report specifically looks at the economic impact of immigrant workers in Arizona, but its findings present much wider implications. Marcos Restrepo at The Colorado Independent sums up the key points:

  • The analysis estimates that immigrants on the whole paid $6 billion in taxes in 2008, while undocumented immigrants paid approximately $2.8 billion.
  • Increase tax revenues by $1.68 billion.

The report adds that the effects of deportation in Arizona would:

  • Decrease total employment by 17.2 percent.
  • Eliminate 581,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
  • Shrink the state economy by $48.8 billion.
  • Reduce state tax revenues by 10.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the effects of legalization in Arizona would:

  • Add 261,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike.
  • Increase labor income by $5.6 billion.

Restrepo adds that, in part because of such mounting evidence, immigrants rights advocates are exhorting authorities to recognize immigrants as workers, first and foremost.

Immigrant farm owners contend with exploitation

Of course, even when immigrants are owners, rather than employees, they still disproportionately contend with exploitative industry practices. At The American Prospect, Monica Potts reports on the unique experiences of Hmong immigrants operating chicken farms in the Ozarks. Specifically, Potts examines how behemoth agri-businesses like Tyson exploit the inexperience or limited English abilities of immigrants to sell chicken farms and secure contracts that often put the farmers deep into debt:

Many Hmong were signing contracts they couldn’t read and getting into deals they didn’t fully understand. At least 12 Hmong declared bankruptcy in 2006. […] The concerns are similar for other immigrant farmers, especially Hispanics, who moved into the area to work at chicken-processing plants but were also recruited to buy operations. Hispanic farmers sometimes pooled their money and bought farms without a contract, only to realize later they wouldn’t be able to sell their chickens on the open market. … Many just walked away rather than trying to save their farms.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

New Book from Dances With Wolves Author

BOOK REVIEW:

 Title: Twelve: The King

 Author: Michael Blake

 Publisher: Perceval Press (Santa Monica, Calif.)

          www.percevalpress.com

 ISBN: 978-09819747-2-9

 Price: $14 softcover

 

          "I encountered an animal whose being was saturated with evidence that the Mystery's spirit was on earth." –MICHAEL BLAKE

           During the mid-1800s, more than two million wild horses freely roamed America's west. But, cattle ranchers—who had already seized land from the Indians and were in a land war with farmers and shepherds—saw horses as competition for unfenced grazing land. Aided by corporate interests and an unconcerned public, ranchers poisoned the water holes, shot the horses, or ran them over cliffs. It was legal.

           During the remainder of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, millions would be killed or sent to slaughter houses in Mexico to become dog food—or gourmet meats to be served in the finer European restaurants.

           A national campaign begun in the 1950s by Velma Johnston led Congress and the Nixon Administration in 1971 to give protection to the remaining horses and burros. By then, there were only about 60,000 left in 10 states. Three decades later, under the George W. Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management determined that even those wild horses and burros were too many. Congress and the Administration, still influenced by corporate interests, repealed most of the 1971 law. Apparently, the remaining 20,000 horses were taking up too much space and resources from the four million head of cattle. The BLM plan was to round up the "excess horses" and  place them in federal corrals.

           But, where the BLM placed the horses wasn't corrals but concentration camps, according to Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves. Blake's latest book, Twelve: The King, is a moving story of his love for wild horses, especially one, a black gelding with the number "1202" branded onto his left flank. Blake describes the first time he saw Twelve:

  

          "When [he] came into full view, everyone eyed his approach; it was as if we had all been tranquilized. He was floating down the pathway, his feet touching the ground as if it were a thick cloud . . . He came into the pen—it seemed as if he levitated in—and for a minute everyone just stared at him. Even the restless children watched him. He was something from another time or place."

 

           For more than two decades, Twelve had been the leader, the protector, of a herd of wild horses. Now, in 1991, he was confined to a small pen on federal land in Palomino Valley, Nevada, about 30 miles north of Reno. "There seemed to be an invisible barrier surrounding him, and none of the other horses, whether alone or in gangs, ever sniffed or touched or whinnied at him," Blake writes, condensing the recollection  of a government worker that once, "the entire population came together and circled their king in a massive surround that lasted several minutes."

           The BLM claimed Twelve was unadoptable because of his age and fiery independence. Blake saw something else. And so he paid $120 to adopt the unadoptable horse, one who wouldn't associate with Blake's domestic horses yet watch over them and be their protector. There was no way Blake would tame Twelve, not in their home near Los Angeles, nor at Wolf House, which became their home near Tucson. But with love and mutual respect, they would be companions for more than 15 years.

           Twelve is the story of that love, that companionship, the story of a writer and a horse, each of whom values not just the spirit of independence but also the land and all that live upon it. There are no flowery phrases, no sentimental dribble, no violent outbursts at mankind and the government, just simple declarative sentences that carry within them the power of love and life. Although it may have seemed that Blake was Twelve's protector, rescuing him from a government concentration camp, the truth is that Twelve, as he was for so many wild horses, was probably Blake's protector, a constant in a life that itself underwent so much turmoil.

           Twelve died Sept. 7, 2005. Michael Blake visits his grave almost every day, "driven not so much by grief as a sense of honor."

           The beauty and quality of production of the Perceval Press book, something not often seen in contemporary book publishing, complements  Blake's words and photos to make Twelve a powerful statement by one of America's best writers about the value of life and the environment.

 —WALTER M. BRASCH

                   

 

 

Making Water Clean with Dirt (New 2 Minute Episode of Nourishing the Planet TV)

In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet research intern, Elena Davert, introduces a counter-intuitive method of cleaning water. In 2004 Peter Njodzeka founded the Life and Water Development Group Cameroon (LWDGC) with a rather simple goal. “ I wanted to see the people in my area have clean water,” he said. “And we kept expanding. That’s how it started.” Now, LWDGC, with support from Engineers without Borders (EWB) and Thirst Relief International, is teaching households how to use dirt and bacteria to clean their water, greatly improving the quality of drinking water and all but eliminating diseases caused by contaminated water. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/ahFrGJ

Making Water Clean with Dirt (New 2 Minute Episode of Nourishing the Planet TV)

In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet research intern, Elena Davert, introduces a counter-intuitive method of cleaning water. In 2004 Peter Njodzeka founded the Life and Water Development Group Cameroon (LWDGC) with a rather simple goal. “ I wanted to see the people in my area have clean water,” he said. “And we kept expanding. That’s how it started.” Now, LWDGC, with support from Engineers without Borders (EWB) and Thirst Relief International, is teaching households how to use dirt and bacteria to clean their water, greatly improving the quality of drinking water and all but eliminating diseases caused by contaminated water. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/ahFrGJ

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