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Healthy Diets Lead to More Food Waste, But You Should Still Eat Your Vegetables
By Dan Nosowitz
It's commonly cited that the U.S wastes about 40 percent of the food supply. In recent years, with a new focus on reducing food waste for environmental and public health reasons, researchers have begun to get ever more granular in their study of exactly how, why, when, where and what food gets wasted. A new one, this time from the University of Vermont, University of New Hampshire and the USDA, takes a look at how diet is correlated with food waste, and comes up with some interesting conclusions.
The new study relies on publicly available USDA data on the roughly 150,000 tons of food per day that goes to waste. Food waste comes from a variety of sources: spoilage, people being unwilling to purchase items they perceive to be bad or to have gone bad, and from extra food simply getting tossed in the trash (say at a restaurant or cafeteria). It is a massive environmental and infrastructure issue—food take a lot of energy to produce, and it builds up in landfills as methane-emitting waste. And let's not forgot the most important issue here: there are millions of food-insecure people in our country. It's a shame!
This is the first study we've seen that specifically examines food waste in the context of diet. It found that certain types of food tend to produce different amounts and different types of waste.
- Fruits and vegetables were found to be the most wasted, at 39 percent of the total.
- Dairy (17 percent) and meat (14 percent) are the second and third most wasted.
- Those with healthier diets (defined here as one higher in fruits and vegetables) may contribute more food waste.
- Further, from the study's release: "The study also found that healthier diets used less cropland than lower quality diets, but led to greater waste in irrigation water and pesticides, which are used at higher rates on average for growing fruits and vegetables."
This is all true, but, as the study's release makes clear, not the full picture. The majority of cropland in the U.S. is used for feed for animals; when you eat meat, you're also relying on that cropland. And a previous study found that producing meat is significantly-more energy intensive than growing plants.
Another issue: plant discards from fruits and vegetables can be composted, which encourages the rapid breakdown of that waste into something useful. But most cities do not allow meat and dairy waste to be composted in municipal systems; this is partly to keep away pests, partly because rotten meat can spread bacteria, and partly because rotten meat and dairy smells really bad. (Seriously.)
In other words, nothing is simple and everything is killing the planet. The only solution is to eat ugly produce.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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