Limiting food waste is our social responsibility during pandemic
By Mahadev Bhat
A 1 percent slowdown in the global economy could thrust an additional 14 million people into poverty worldwide. Among the many risks, food insecurity is a big one. As the global coronavirus pandemic unfolds, much has been said about our health-care system, hygiene, social distancing, flattening the curve (a new buzz word!), stock markets, China, Italy, the U.S. and total economic meltdown. It’s time we think about food. And it’s time we stop wasting it.
A secure and safe food system means a continual supply of food is available in a reliable, steady, safe and affordable manner. The full impact of the coronavirus on food security will be known only in the days ahead. However, its effects could rattle the food supply chain in more ways than one — at least for a short duration.
The economic slowdown puts a significant number of people out of work, an outcome that hits both the supply and demand sides of the economy. As more of us are away from our offices, factories and farms — unable to bring home paychecks — demand threatens to overwhelm supply.
On the production front, the pandemic has not caused much impacts on staple food supply (corn, wheat or rice, for example), according to a study from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). But perishable and processed foods (such as fruits and vegetables, refrigerated and canned food) may experience supply delays, increased food inspections and price hikes.
The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 has already increased food safety regulations at each and every node of the supply chain from farm to table. A pandemic like this can further sensitize farmers, farm workers, haulers, packers, processors, distributors, retail vendors and restaurant workers.
While farmers and food industry workers are ready to do their part to ensure supply chains are maintained, higher food safety measures could lead to higher costs and delays.
Under the worst economic scenario, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development predicts the pandemic could halve global economic growth in 2020 to 1.5%, down from the original projection of 3%. The study by IFPRI estimates that every 1% slowdown in the global economy would increase the number of people living in poverty — and likely food insecurity — by 2%, or about 14 million people worldwide.
The United States, one of the world’s richest countries, is not immune to food insecurity. In 2017, one in eight people suffered from food insecurity. A prolonged economic shock could worsen that situation. Or we can rise above it. People are already stepping up to ensure families have meals while schools and restaurants close during this pandemic.
So what can the average person do?
Aside from following all the hygiene and social distancing guidelines, pause for a moment and think about all those millions of people who must work each day to make sure that safe food flows from farm to table.
A moment like this calls for minimizing food waste especially at the point of consumption: in homes, restaurants, schools, hospitals and dorms alike. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a staggering 30% to 40% of food gets wasted and about one-third of that waste occurs at retail and consumer levels.
It is in our power and responsibility as collective industries and individual consumers to cut that waste significantly. With children now at home for an extended period of time, let us take advantage of this period by talking to them and educating ourselves about our social responsibility toward one of the most basic things in life: food.