Being 'Food Foolish:' How eliminating food waste could change the world

John Mandyck, co-author of "Food Foolish," discusses the inefficiency of our food systems all over the world. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

We accept inefficiency in our food systems to a degree that is tolerated nowhere else in society, said John Mandyck, co-author of “Food Foolish.”

“The amount and scale of the food that we waste in the face of hunger, in the face of climate change, in the face of water shortages, has got to be one of the most foolish things we do on this planet, but I’m equally optimistic because almost anything we do is going to make a big difference,” said Mandyck, chief sustainability officer for United Technologies.

Globally, the world produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, yet over 800 million of the seven billion people on Earth go hungry every year, Mandyck said Tuesday evening in Konover Auditorium at “Sustainable Urbanization: The Future of Food.” Whether it’s fruits left in the field to rot after a drop in the market, ugly tomatoes rejected by grocery stores’ stringent quality standards or a cut of meat that goes bad at the back of a refrigerator, 40 percent of food ends up in a landfill instead of in the mouths of people who need it, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council.

“I challenge all of you in this room to think about where else in society we tolerate 40 percent inefficiency in anything. If tomorrow we only got 60 percent of our emails, some of us might be happy about that but I can tell you our modern society could not function,” Mandyck said.

This has disastrous consequences not only for food insecure people, but for the planet. It would take 75 percent of California’s land mass and all of the water used in California, Texas and Ohio on an annual basis to grow all of the food wasted per year in one place, Mandyck said.

If food waste were a country it would be the third worst producer of greenhouse gases in the world, behind only China and the United States. Alternatively, he said, if food waste and the resulting overproduction were eliminated entirely, the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking every car in the world off the road.

Despite the challenge, Mandyck said he remains optimistic. While the current rate of food waste creates added risk for climate change, hunger and national security, reclaiming this hidden source of food could be the best way to provide for all 9.5 billion people expected to live on Earth by 2050.

“That means we have to feed a lot more people and they’re coming quickly, but more than that, as more and more people move to cities, they’re moving farther and farther away from their food sources. We have to think about food differently if we are going to urbanize and grow our environment in a more sustainable way,” Mandyck said.

While producers create 63 percent of food waste, consumers can do their part by eating leftovers, shopping with a plan and setting aside “romantic” notions of what food should look like. Apples don’t need to be perfectly round, carrots perfectly straight or potatoes perfectly oblong to be tasty and safe for consumption, Mandyck said.

Emily Ross, a sixth-semester psychology major who attended the lecture, said she is concerned about how meat consumption factors into the issues of food waste and climate change. Only 50 percent of food goes toward human consumption its first instance, Mandyck said, with the other 50 percent being diverted to animals who will later be slaughtered for meat, resulting in a net loss of nutrients.

“I’ve seen a lot of research and a lot of info that’s been exposed lately about how animal agriculture has one of the largest effects on the environment,” Ross said. “I think we’re uncomfortable with the idea of having to change our cultural values and our wants surrounding the idea of animal agriculture. Pretty much, we don’t want to stop eating meat.”

Jillian Ives, an academic advisor for the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, said Mandyck’s lecture was organized to give students the environmental perspective on food waste. The Food Waste Initiative will culminate in a “Tasty Waste Lunch” featuring reclaimed food on Wednesday, Sept. 21 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Fairfield Way.



Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.