An average 30-year old who's eaten three meals a day since birth has consumed more than 30,000 meals to date. Even if you've only eaten half that much you have to admit this: you've let some of that breakfast, lunch or dinner go to waste.
And it turns out we're all to blame for this gut-wrenching fact: 30% of all food produced in the world each year is wasted or lost. That's about 1.3 billion tons, according to a new report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
That's the weight of more than 8.6 million full-grown blue whales, the largest creatures on earth. That's the weight of more than 2.3 million Airbus A380s, the largest commercial planes in existence. That's as if each person in China, the world's most populous country with more than 1.3 billion people, had a one ton mass of food they could just throw into the trashcan.
It's almost unfathomable isn't it?
Breaking apart that big number, we find the people with the most money are the ones who waste the most.Per capita, Europeans and North Americans waste between 95 and 115 kilograms of food. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia waste much, much less – between 6 and 11 kilograms per person. The takeaway? The developed world wastes 10 times more food than the developing one.
Here's another statistic: all the food that the world's richest countries waste is about equal to all the food that sub-Saharan Africa produces. The numbers: 222 million tons and 230 million tons, respectively. Basically, the waste of the rich could feed much of the African continent.
And these numbers come as we've just been reporting about soaring food prices around the world in the past week.
China reported 11.5% April food inflation year on year earlier this week.
India reported 8.5% April food inflation earlier this month.
South Africa and the U.S. have yet to report their April numbers but year-end forecasts say the former could see up to 15% inflation, the latter could see up to 6% inflation.
A major change of mindset is what is needed.
The U.N. says one of the biggest challenges is helping people get over the perception of food perfection. Perhaps it's instinctual to rummage through that pile of Red Delicious apples at the market looking for those few, unbruised perfect specimens. But beauty is only peel deep. And a fresh fruit that has a bump on it is actually still edible and probably tastes just as good.
The U.N. also suggests that charities work together with markets to collect food that's unsold and about to pass its expiry date. It can be redistributed or cooked up at food kitchens for the needy and homeless.
A third suggestion: simply don't buy more food than you need. You're more likely to not finish it, you'll end up throwing it away and you'll have wasted your money.
And my own personal tip: if I eat at a restaurant and can't finish it all, I ask for a doggie bag. I used to be a waiter years ago and will never forget the amounts of food I saw left on the table after the bill was paid.
There's no reason to waste food. It's up to all of us to use our common sense to eat and shop just a bit wiser. Remember, we've got 1.3 billion tons of food on our plate to clean up – each year and counting.