Everything that well-off people in the developed world eat - or even worse, throw away - is food that isn't feeding the impoverished and hungry of the developing world. Pope Francis has equated food waste with "stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry."
In 2011, 1.3 billion tonnes of food, or about one third of all the food produced globally, was lost or wasted annually, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. In developed countries, the average person wastes about 100 kilograms of food every year.
"Some the food is lost during the production stage to pests, some is lost during harvesting, some is lost during processing, some is lost in storage. But a considerable amount is lost in people's homes," explains Tim Benton, a professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds.
"In the U.K., we end up throwing away 20 to 30 per cent of the food that we buy. And when you add it all up, it's quite frightening," he says. "The waste that we throw away in Europe and North America is about equal to all of the food that sub-Saharan Africa produces."
Prof. Benton, who also holds the title of U.K. Champion for Global Food Security, discusses the situation in a feature interview with Michael Enright on CBC radio's The Sunday Edition this week.
And he says that food waste only one problem. Overeating is another.
Research shows that based on average weight gain through adulthood, people are consuming 20 to 30 per cent too many calories. So eating a healthier, more balanced diet would not only help tackle the obesity epidemic, it would also take as much as a third of the caloric demands out of the global food chain.
"If everyone in the world chose to live like your average North American, it would require four Earths to produce all the necessary food," Prof. Benton says.
You might not notice it on your grocery bill, but pressure on the global food chain is having an impact.
Between 2006 and 2008, the average world prices for food skyrocketed, including these staples:
- Rice 217 per cent
- Wheat 136 per cent
- Corn 125 per cent
- Soybeans 107 per cent
Food shortages have already caused massive social and political unrest, contributing to revolutions that toppled governments in Haiti and Madagascar in 2008 and 2009, after the global price spikes. And the riots in Tunisia that triggered the Arab Spring were initially dismissed by the government as just another round of protests over the rising cost of bread, which had sporadically hit the country for decades.
The World Food Programme estimates that 870 million people worldwide do not have access to enough food to be healthy.
And with the global population expected to increase 50 per cent, or three billion people, by 2050, Prof. Benton warns that it's only going to get worse.
"We're going to have all those extra mouths to feed," he says. "We're going to have less land on which to produce food because of all those extra people, and our ability to produce it will be further hampered by climate change."
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, Wellcome Trust (Nov 2016), £119,343
Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000