According to the U.S, Department of Agriculture, an astonishing 48 million Americans were without food in 2015 – that's 15% of our entire population. Of this total, 9 million were children. 12% of America's 74 million children lived in households that ran out of food, skipped meals and ate limited or poor diets due to poverty.
The medical impacts of a child going without food are profound and include delayed development, anemia, low body weight, depression and frequent hospitalizations. The child's emotional, cognitive and physical development is slowed and compromised by the lack of proper nutrition. These problems translate into an additional cost to taxpayers of 1.2 billion dollars annually for health and special education costs – all related to poor nutrition during the earliest years of a child's life.
Ironically, Americans throw away and waste more than enough food to feed all of these children. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that as much as 40% of America's food supply ends up in a dumpster, well over a fifth of America's waste, far ahead of paper, plastics, metal or glass.
While America is at the top of all countries discarding edible food, it is by no means alone; roughly a third of all the food produced worldwide never gets eaten. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as sub-Saharan Africa produces. And as we throw away food, one in every nine people in the world, a billion people, suffer from chronic hunger.
According to Tristram Stuart, an international authority on food waste, the 40 million tons of food Americans waste each year (which includes retail, households and food services) could feed the world's hungry - every man, woman and child. The water used to grow that wasted food could meet the needs of 9 billion people- the world's anticipated population by 2050. Planting trees on land where wasted food is currently grown would offset 100% of the greenhouse gas and fossil fuels emissions that contribute to climate change.
Americans enjoy a food supply that is four times greater than their nutritional needs. How we grow, distribute, consume and think about food holds powerful possibilities for the future. Tristram Stuart's pioneering work is leading the way and his TED Talk is a good place to start, if you want to learn more about what can be done to eliminate hunger by making better use of the food we waste every day.
If you happen to be on Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday July 27th, you might want to stop by the Gather event (Farm. Field. Sea.) at the Martha's Vineyard Shipyard for a conversation with Tristram Stuart and Doug Rauch, founder of Daily Table, on this very subject.