Villagers — Virunga Mountains, Rwanda by Tuesday Phillips
This post was originally published on the United Nations Environmental Programme website as the cover story for their World Environment Day (WED) 2013 Think.Eat.Save campaign.
With the looming threat of factory farming practices, GMOs and mercury emissions contaminating our food, most of us are concerned with what we are eating, and rightfully so. But in the wake of 2013, I am joining the UNEP’s Think.Eat.Save campaign and declaring this the year that we also start thinking about what we are not eating.
See your mother was on to something when she told you to finish your Brussels sprouts or you wouldn’t get dessert. Not just because vegetables are nutritious, but by choosing not to eat them — or more importantly allowing them to go to waste — you are contributing to a bigger food issue.
One that is, now, a global crisis.
Take the United States, where I live, for example. As a country, we manage to waste around $165 billion in food each year. Simplified, or rather quantified in mouthfuls: that is every other bite.
Think about this for a second. Every. Other. Bite. Just wasted.
Why does this matter? Well aside from the obvious — didn’t your mother also tell you there are starving children in Africa? — food waste is a slippery slope that leads to the use of more fuel for transportation, added chemicals to crops, increased likelihood for food decay, accelerated green house gas emissions, more methane leakage, and ultimately a massive loss in our planet’s biodiversity.
While none of this is good, and we must find a collective solution fast, the good news is that there are some brilliant people working towards changing the way we communicate with each other as individuals and as nations so that the conversation can be ignited and real solutions have the potential to catch fire.
I met some of these changemakers in 2010, when I won the first-ever UNEP blogging competition and was sent to Rwanda for World Environment Day (WED) to write about biodiversity — another global issue that is closely interwoven into the fabric of our current, growing food crisis.
For instance, I interviewed climate hero Photographer Lou Hong, who donated $20,000 to Rwanda’s Legacy Project so that the country could work towards building a low-carbon, green economy.
I also participated in several conferences where renowned Tropical Field Biologist and Conservationist, Ian Redmond was in attendance. Known for his amazing work with great apes and elephants, he joined the WED events in Rwanda to shed light on the endangered mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park.
During a casual press conference in which Redmond, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, and the Ambassador of Rwanda attended, Steiner said that “the 2010 WED theme of Many Species. One Planet. One Future. must be taken into every corner of our community” to be effective.
When thinking about the current theme, Think.Eat.Save, I believe that the same applies.
In order to find a solution for our current food problems we need to think about the global community, but we also need to do our part as individuals.
For example, when it comes to waste, we can avoid buying in bulk, freeze what we wont be using right away, and pay attention to expiration dates, as most food is still good long after the marked date. Also, since food scraps make up nearly 20% of landfill waste, composting in an ideal alternative to the garbage can.
By making changes in our lives and inspiring those around us to think about food differently, eat responsibly and save accordingly, small day-to-day efforts like the above could have big impacts.
All it takes is the corners of each community coming together — like those attending WED 2013 — and meeting in the middle to share their ideas, and digging into this food crisis, one bite at a time.