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Food Waste – A Missed Opportunity Part 2

September 27, 2014
photo of Gary Oppenheimer in a garden Gary Oppenheimer

Note: you can read Part I of this topic here.

“Finish what’s on your plate – kids are starving in Europe.” That’s what I heard over and over again as a child, it’s what helped inspire the creation of, and it’s how I started my TED Talk.

Now decades later, though we’ve largely eliminated polio and small pox, we are still talking about “kids starving in [pick any continent other than Antarctica]”.

Hunger remains as a staggeringly large problem. So is the waste of food.

See the irony there? We did.

Earlier this year, the United Nation’s “Zero Hunger Challenge” invited to join the ranks of other local and global organizations working to end hunger. This program, inspired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, is working to eradicate hunger by asking both non-profits/NGO’s as well as individuals to make a commitment towards that end.

The goal is to reduce global hunger to zero in our lifetimes—to have:

  • zero stunted children in less than 2 years;
  • 100% access to adequate food all year round;
  • all food systems be sustainable;
  • 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income;
  • zero loss or waste of food.

This past week, the UN General Assembly met in New York City. As part of the special meetings taking place around the General Assembly, was invited by the Zero Hunger Challenge folks to attend “Delivering Zero Hunger”.  I was also invited to another event hosted by the UN Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group along with another organization, The RBM Partnership. Speakers included UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon himself, Ted Turner, the Prime Minister of the Norway, the President of Rwanda, and others.

The Delivering Zero Hunger meeting, which took place in what had once been the Security Council, was an excellent opportunity for those of us who are working to address food issues to exchange ideas and discuss “next steps”.  Included among the speakers was the Prime Minster of the Netherlands along with other government and UN officials.

There was a great deal of enthusiasm for the work that has been done, and the hope for strategic partnerships in the future to end hunger across the globe. Many spoke about supporting local agricultural system, empowering women and children, promoting peace, and reducing poverty levels to help make it happen. With representatives from all over the world, we produced a world of ideas! All great stuff.

While reducing global food waste to zero is one of the goals of the Zero Hunger Challenge, unfortunately, no one addressed the issue during our meeting. I brought this up later with the Executive Director of the World Food Programme who said that it had been on her list of items but time constraints pushed it aside.

With only 2 hours to convene, it is hard to cover everything, but I believe food waste is the low-hanging fruit in the equation. A world of expertise and passion assembled in one place to discuss hunger but never touched on a ready solution. That was a missed opportunity.

I been involved in boating since 1978 and if you have any experience on the water, you know that if you start to sink, finding and hopefully plugging the hole in the hull is your *first* (ok… maybe second after putting on your flotation device) action – even before pumping out the water. Do it the other way around and you’ll continue to pump water but you won’t solve the problem. Eventually, you exhaust yourself. Then you sink.

The world loses a staggering amount of food every year. Just here in America, the USDA reported in early 2014 that more than 30% of our food is never consumed – something that cost us $161 Billion in 2010. Imagine the cost on a global scale.

Our growing population will need more and more food. But until we plug the leak in our food distribution networks, all of the best hopes and efforts will simply be bailing out water while more pours in.

If you want to do your part to end hunger, make a commitment to do so. But start by eliminating food waste. You can do it in your home and can help you do it from your garden.

Plug the hole first. Things will get a lot easier after that.

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