Imagine purchasing three bags of groceries and dropping one in the store parking lot without ever picking it back up.
This is essentially what people across the globe do every single year. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of the food produced in the world is wasted annually.
That is approximately 1.3 billion tons.
Meanwhile, the Food Aid Foundation estimates that 795 million people go hungry every year.
How can both world hunger and food waste be global issues simultaneously?
There isn’t a simple answer or solution to addressing this problem. The Guardian reports the U.S. is one of the leading contributors in food waste, with 50 percent of food produced being unused or thrown out.
When the shopping practices of Americans are considered, one answer becomes clearer.
Think about it. When you’re perusing the produce aisle at your local grocery store, how do you decide which fruits or vegetables go in your cart? You choose the ones that look the best.
But it is this very practice that contributes to the alarming rate of food gone to waste in America. Those bruised apples or misshapen peaches — that may very well be just fine to eat — are never bought or eaten due to its aesthetic alone.
Retailers and farmers catch on to these patterns. Farmers may produce sufficient crops, but only a portion of their supply gets sold to the retailer. The retailer demands perfect looking food because that is the only kind consumers seem willing to purchase.
According to National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), “sell by” dates are the suggested time in which retailers should stop selling the product to ensure there is still a shelf life after purchase. “Best by” markers are suppliers’ estimated dates of peak quality.
However, neither of these labels signify unsafe or inferior tasting food. Yet, the NRDC reports that 91 percent of consumers misinterpret these dates of when the food should be thrown away.
The demand for cosmetically perfect food is driving otherwise acceptable food into landfills. Farmers nor retailers are able to sell the less attractive produce and the ones they manage to market in stores are slapped with misleading expiration dates.
Meanwhile, millions of people are not meeting their nutritional needs.
It is a bitter irony that we waste money on food that will never be consumed while so many people cannot afford to eat.
More sustainable approaches to purchasing and consuming food must be made.
For one, the “ugly” produce that does not get sold can be donated to those who are currently managing food insecurity. Tax breaks or incentives should also be provided to manufacturers who donate their unsold food. There also needs to be a better labeling system so consumers are not discarding food and money into the trash.
Attitudes equating food quality with appearance need to shift as well. When we refuse the blemished food, retailers reject it from the farmers who produce it, who in turn do not bother trying to sell it and let it go to waste.
Paige Wisniewski is a senior majoring in interdisciplinary social science.