There was a good reason food was mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer – give us this day our daily bread - we do need to regularly remember that food is a blessing from God, to be appreciated...
But our gratitude is being swamped by our wastefulness – too often we take food for granted.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a recent report (see 1) estimates that 1.3 billion tones of food is wasted every year – a staggering 33% of all food produced.
Homes in the UK throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food every year. That means the average family throws away over £50 (US$82) a month in wasted food. It's the same in the EU, the US, Australia and other countries where food has a strict Use-By date and where access to cheap food means we prepare too much and throw too much away. Food is also wasted in developing countries but for different reasons: things like poor packing and storage facilities and inadequate infrastructure.
And western economies remain the champions of food waste. The FAO Report stated, "We estimate that the per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/year, while this figure in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia is only 6-11 kg/year."
We produce enough food to feed the world but rather than harvesting with care, we are prodigal with God's bounty.
The imbalance between those who have more than enough and those who do not is particularly pertinent now when the food crisis in the Horn of Africa shows us images of little children dying slowly and silently. The daily reality is that 925 million people around the world go hungry every day,(see 2) a number that is increasing due to the demands of agribusiness and speculation about food production in the markets that has driven up prices.
Meanwhile as we all know, families in wealthy countries grow fat eating the wrong foods. Two thirds of adults in America are overweight with the UK and Australia not far behind. Childhood diabetes is an increasing problem in the West, blamed on fast food and lack of exercise.
The solution is not as simple as sending food from the West to areas where there is shortage. So what can be done by you and me and by nations at a policy level?
As always, we should start with awareness about our own consumption. We can make a conscious and serious effort to watch what we eat, support local producers, avoid supermarket bulk buys unless we really will use the extra food, buy fair trade and appreciate the food we have.
But we also need to realise that the production and distribution of food are basic matters of justice at an individual, national and international level. Locally, we need to push our supermarkets to buy local produce and to pay a fair price to local farmers.
At the national and global level, we should press for fair distribution of food. Current trade rules on agriculture allow some rich nations to subsidise their farmers, which leads to overproduction and artificially cheap food. Corn is a good example. Corn growers in the US receive an average of more than $20,000 in subsidies. Their cheap corn in turn floods into Mexico because of the free trade agreement and pushes small-scale farmers off the land. Thousands of Mexican corn farmers have left home in the last 10 years and crossed over into the US where they work illegally as farm and factory labourers.
The round of talks on development and trade begun in 2001, called the DOHA Round have been paralysed for three years over farmers' subsidies, defended most loudly by the EU, USA and Japan, and our demands for free market access rejected most loudly by developing nations. Another meeting is due in December – 10 years after the initial meetings seemed to promise so much. Hopes for breakthrough are not high and it is an indictment on us all that we have allowed injustice to prevail.
So please learn about the issues, pray, and find out what your government is doing about quality food production, agricultural subsidies and trade.
Most importantly, we need to fight against the idea that food is just another commodity on the futures market. It is far too important – it is our daily bread.
1) The FAO, Global Food Losses and Food Waste, May 2011, see http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ags/publications/GFL_web.pdf
2) No one really knows how many people are malnourished. The statistic most frequently cited is that of the United Nations FAO, which measures 'undernutrition'. Their latest estimate in October 2010 says that 925 million people are undernourished.
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