This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Oh, The Food that We Waste

This week the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers got lots of attention for its report calling attention to the incredible amount of food that is wasted in the world, especially in the richer countries.
Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.
Naturally, as BBCNews notes, there is push-back from those, like supermarkets, who are accused of being big corporate wasters, as compared to those of us who simply leave food on our plates. But the quibbles are only about how huge the waste is, not that it is huge. This is not a new issue, of course. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been pushing this theme hard, and Vaclav Smil, a Canadian economist, is one among many who have been writing about it for a long time.

So, the issue is not new, but it is large and it is important. At root (pun intended), there really is nothing more important than feeding the world's population, and if we can do that more readily by being more careful with food than by growing a lot more food than should be necessary, we will all be better off.

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